Following the deadly attack in Tel Aviv that killed three civilians, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi has ordered the military to increase offensive operations in the West Bank and along the security fence.
The move comes after a situational assessment with top military and security officials on Friday morning.
According to a statement released by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, in his opening remarks of the assessment, Kohavi defined his objectives as preventing terror attacks in the West Bank; foiling of threats coming from the West Bank and the continued assistance to the Israel Police.
As such, troops have been ordered to expand and increase offensive operations, with a focus on towns in the northern West Bank from where terrorists who carried out recent attacks came from; continuing to reinforce Israel Police; increase defensive operations along the seam line and examining the need to call up reserve troops if deemed necessary.
Kohavi has also instructed relevant troops to investigate all the intelligence and operational failures that led to the attack “and to learn from the manner of assistance provided by IDF units in last night’s pursuit,” the statement added.
The terrorist who killed three people and wounded twelve more in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street was killed in an exchange of fire with Israeli forces early on Friday morning, nine hours after he first opened fire toward Ilka bar on the busy street.
Identified as 28-year-old Ra’ad Fathi Hazem from the Jenin refugee camp, he was located hiding near a mosque in Jaffa by two Shin Bet officers who identified a suspicious figure who was similar to the suspect. According to a reports, Hazem pulled out his gun and fired 10 bullets toward the officers who returned fire and killed him.
Walla! Reported that it’s believed that Hazem knew the area and that he hoped to hide in the mosque during the first Friday prayers of Ramadan.
The victims were identified as 28-year-old old Tomer Morad and 27 year-old Eitam Megini, both from Kfar Saba and 35 year-old Barak Lopen from Givat Shmuel.
Lopen, who was married with three children, was critically injured in the shooting and succumbed to his wounds at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center. He had represented Israel at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics as a kayaker.
Sourasky Medical Center said that it’s continuing to treat eight people who were wounded in the attack. Another two people, a man and a woman, also remain in critical condition. Two others remain in moderate condition and another four are lightly wounded.
The Shin Bet said that Hazem had no known organizational affiliation, previous arrests or security background before he carried out his attack. He is beleived to have crossed into Israel illegally through the fence from the West Bank through a hole in the past few days.
Palestinian reports said that his father was a senior officer with the Palestinian Authority security forces but retired about a decade ago. His uncle praised the attack on Facebook, saying that he had joined his uncles who were affiliated with Fatah and were killed in clashes with security forces.
His father was later filmed outside his house telling a crowd that had gathered that “You will see the victory soon… God, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the occupiers.”
According to a report in Yediot Aharonot, Hazem was driven from the Jenin area to Umm el-Fahm after he crossed illegally through the fence and from there he took a bus to Tel Aviv. The individual’s identity is known to the security establishment.
Speaking to combat intelligence troops ahead of a Friday night dinner, Kohavi confirmed that Hazzem entered Israel through the seam line, something “that should not have happened.”
“The last attack came from the West Bank through a hole in the seam line and that should not have happened,” he said. “It’s our responsibility. Intelligence and ground forces have been reinforced to thwart attacks and there are clandestine activities that I won’t discuss here.”
According to Kohavi, there have been countless arrests and attacks that had been thwarted over the past year, but the IDF “will use everything in our means” to prevent further attacks.
“From the soldier in the field to the general staff,” he said, adding that troops have to return the feeling of security to Israeli citizens but that the current wave will likely last weeks.
Combat troops in the West Bank had their furloughs cancelled due to the increase in readiness until after Independence Day on May 4th.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held security consultations with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Minister of Internal Security Omar Bar-Lev, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and other senior officials on Friday morning.
Offering his condolences to those who were killed and wishes to those injured, Bennett praised the security forces who worked throughout the night to locate the terrorist.
He instructed the defense establishment to check if anyone knew of his intentions and also ordered that the Gilboa crossing be closed until further notice “in order to limit traffic to and from Jenin,” read a statement released by Bennett’s office.
Speaking at a press conference alongside Bennett and Bar Lev, Gantz said that the country is facing a spate of terror attacks and like previous waves, it will be defeated by an “operational iron fist.”
“The State of Israel is the most powerful state in the region. Our enemies know it and feel it,” he said at the conference at the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv on Friday morning.
“The IDF and the rest of the security forces will continue to use all the intelligence capabilities, along with all the necessary offensive and defensive systems, in order to cope with this wave, as well as demand a price from terrorists,” he said.
Calling on citizens to maintain their daily routine, Gantz stressed that resilience is the wait to defeat terrorism.
Despite the deadly attack, thousands of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are expected to attend Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
“Ramadan should be a month of religious worship and family fun and I beleive that what most Palestinians think is that terrorism harms them and their interests. Same with the Muslim citizens of Israel,” Gantz said.
The Defense Minister said that while the Palestinian Authority “did well” in condemning the attack, he said that “my demand is that along with the condemnation, that the actions taken against those who perpetrate terrorism be expanded, in all areas.”
Gantz said that security forces have already made some 200 arrests and “if necessary there will be thousands” in order to prevent future attacks.
“We do not want to punish the public, but security comes first,” he said, adding that “the IDF, the Shin Bet and the police will continue to act with great force against terrorism, and will increase operations on the ground.”
The manhunt for Hazem spanned over nine hours, with at least 1,000 police and IDF reinforcements combing the area for the gunman. Forces, including units from the IDF’s Sayeret Matkal, Lotar and the Israel Air Force’s elite Shaldag unit, went building by building in central Tel Aviv looking for him.
Police had urged residents to stay inside and away from windows and balconies while they searched for him.
“After a difficult night, and after long hours of joint activity by the Israel Police, the Shin Bet and the IDF, we succeeded this morning, in operational and intelligence cooperation, in closing a circle and eliminating the terrorist by exchange of fire,” said Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai Friday morning. “We emphasized that no matter how much it takes, we will catch the terrorist, alive or dead, and indeed the contact this morning was a quick and determined response from the Shin Bet and YAMAM fighters in Jaffa.”
The attack took place at two locations on Dizengoff Street which is one of the city’s busiest streets on Thursday nights with restaurants and bars along the street full of people. After opening fire toward Ilka Bar, the shooter ran down a side street and opened fire again.
Koby Brinn, a bartender at the Spicehaus bar, said he saw the chaos unfold outside the bar. “It was nuts. I was at the bar that faced outside, and suddenly there was this massive wave of people running in the street.”
Bennett, Gantz, Kohavi were at the Kirya receiving updates throughout the search for the terrorist while Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi were on the scene.
Bennett expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and wished the wounded a speedy recovery on Thursday night. He warned that those that aided the terrorist would pay a price.
“I share the grief of the families of the murdered, wish recovery to the wounded and express appreciation to the forces that have acted and continue to act around the clock,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Friday morning.
Palestinian factions welcomed the terrorist attack on Thursday, with videos of celebrations in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon shared by Palestinian media. Hamas called the attack a “natural and legitimate response to the escalation of the occupation’s crimes against our people, our land, Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque.”
Shabtai said that Israel Police would continue with a high level of security following the attack, “including securing the first Friday prayers of Ramadan.”
The police chief warned that they would “respond with great force and intensity to any unusual event, as we responded immediately after the attack in Tel Aviv, and we will pursue anyone who harms or seeks to harm Israeli citizens. “
“We will expand our operations against the wave of terrorism in attack, defense and intelligence,” Gantz said. “We will continue to operate wherever necessary.”
Security forces have been placed on high alert in response to the rise in terrorist attacks in Israel and gunfire targeting IDF troops in the West Bank. Some 1,000 soldiers in special forces training have been sent to help the Israel Police within Israel’s borders and major cities.
Hundreds of IDF troops were deployed along the Seam Line in an effort to stop tens of thousands of Palestinians who enter the country on a daily basis through breaches in the security fence. The IDF also reinforced troops with 14 combat battalions – 12 to the West Bank and two to the Gaza Division.
The attack was the latest in a series of deadly attacks that began last month in Beersheba, Hadera and Bnei Brak. So far, 14 people have been killed in the attacks.
The last shooting attack on Dizengoff Street was in 2016 when two people were killed and several others were wounded when an Israeli-Arab opened fire on the Simta bar, just a few blocks away from the Ilka bar. The attacker, Nashat Melhem, took a taxi to escape the scene and later shot and killed the driver. Melhem was killed a few days later by security forces.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.