The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has completed a large-scale, three-week offensive against Hamas in the West Bank following the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers near Hebron on 12 June. Their bodies were found on 30 June.
"The kidnapping has strategically harmed Hamas to the extent that the terror organisation will end up regretting it," a senior military source said.
The Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) identified two Hamas members from Hebron as the kidnappers within 24 hours of the youths' disappearance. This led to a two-pronged operation: the first to locate the kidnappers and the teenagers, the second to significantly weaken Hamas' presence in the West Bank.
The IDF deployed 10 infantry divisions to the West Bank and nightly raids were launched against Hamas's military and civilian structure. The IDF closed down 63 Hamas social outreach centres, saying they were used to build the group's support base, recruit operatives, and finance armed operations. The IDF seized NIS1.2 million from these centres during the operation.
It also searched 2,218 homes and uncovered dozens of caves, tunnels and underground facilities in residential buildings used by Hamas, seizing automatic weapons, ammunition and explosives in the process.
By the operation's conclusion, 422 suspects had been arrested, including 322 Hamas members, and 12 Hamas leaders. The detainees included 56 former prisoners who Israel released in 2011 in exchange for Gilad Shalit: a soldier captured by Hamas in 2006. While the suspected kidnappers were still at large at the time of writing, nearly all of Hamas' leadership in the West Bank are now in Israeli custody.
Military sources reported limited clashes with rioters in Palestinian cities during the raids. The IDF said it killed five Palestinians who were in the process of deploying life-threatening violence against soldiers during the clashes.
At the time of writing, the IDF had the homes of the two suspected kidnappers surrounded pending a cabinet decision to demolish them.
Senior military sources said the aim of the effort was to rollback Hamas's ambitions to become a dominant force in the West Bank at the expense of its rival Fatah, thereby creating an improved security environment.
As the IDF decreases its presence in the West Bank, the focus has shifted to the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, to see whether the kidnapping will result in an escalation in that arena.
Sources in the defence establishment have voiced a reluctance to enter into a cycle of escalation with Hamas in Gaza at this time, but have warned that the continuation of rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israeli population centres will leave the IDF with no choice but to step up operations there.