September 14, 2023 | Policy Brief

West Bank Rocket Fire Seeks to Open New Front Against Israel

September 14, 2023 | Policy Brief

West Bank Rocket Fire Seeks to Open New Front Against Israel

Palestinian terrorists operating near Jenin in the northern West Bank launched a rocket at Israel on September 10, the seventh attempted rocket attack from the area since June. Given that Palestinians had not fired rockets at Israel for over a dozen years since the Second Intifada, these launches may be part of an effort to open up a new front in the rocket war against the Jewish state.

Although the launches so far have largely been failures, causing no damage or injuries inside Israel, Israel Security Agency Director Ronen Bar warned that Palestinian terror organizations have renewed their efforts to achieve rocket capabilities in the West Bank. If sufficiently advanced, such capabilities would pose a significant threat to Israeli civilians and infrastructure.

A new group that calls itself the Al-Ayash Battalion has claimed responsibility for the rocket launches, which the group has widely broadcast on social media.  

The battalion is named in honor of Hamas leader Yahya Ayash, known as “The Engineer,” who was the terror group’s chief bombmaker and whose inventions were used to murder dozens of Israeli civilians in the early 1990s. Ayash was killed in an explosion in 1996, presumably by Israel though it never took responsibility for the assassination.

The battalion’s logo also suggests a connection to Hamas: It is nearly identical to the logo of the Izz-ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the name Hamas gives to its military organization. Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether the battalion is a separate organization, an extension of Hamas, or just a name for the rocket campaign.

Islamic Jihad has also attempted to establish rocket capabilities in the West Bank. In Israel’s last round of conflict with Islamic Jihad in Gaza in May, an airstrike killed Gaza-based Islamic Jihad leader Tarek Izz a-Din, who was central to the West Bank rocket initiative.

In the past, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA’s) Palestinian Security Forces, which receive U.S. support, frequently foiled rocket operations in the West Bank; however, the PA has lost control of pockets of the West Bank including the Jenin region, where the Al-Ayash Battalion has been most active. The lack of security in Jenin has created a fertile environment for Iran-backed terror groups to recruit young men and boys into their ranks.

The IDF will likely continue to respond forcefully to rocket threats emanating from the West Bank. The Biden administration should be clear in its support for Israeli counter-terror operations to neutralize these threats and should also pressure the PA to act decisively against the terror groups exploiting the instability. Additionally, the Biden administration should work with the Israelis and the Jordanians to prevent the transfer of arms to Israel through the Jordan Valley, which has become a frequent smuggling route for explosives and firearms, some with Iranian fingerprints on the munitions.

Enia Krivine is the senior director of the Israel Program and the FDD National Security Network at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Follow Enia on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @EKrivine.


Israel Palestinian Politics