Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a rally in memory of their seven comrades, who were killed when a tunnel collapsed close to the Gaza Strip's eastern border with Israel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Communities near Gaza have enjoyed a prolonged period of quiet since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, a calm that is shattered every few months by Salafi jihadist rocket attacks from the Strip – a reminder of the fragility of the “calm.”
Since the end of the 2014 war, the Eshkol region has experienced a population growth of around 8%, as new families settle in the area – a reflection of the sense of security that is widespread in the area, despite the presence of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups just across the border.
Lt.-Col. (res.) Ilan Aizekson is the security coordinator for the Eshkol Regional Council, a role that places him in a gray area between the military and civilian worlds. Aizekson communicates continually with the officers of the Southern Gaza Territorial Brigade, and receives the latest security updates. When necessary, he ensures that the Eshkol Council snaps into emergency mode.
A reservist battalion commander in the Southern Gaza Brigade, Aizekson told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the connection between local military forces and the Eshkol Council is at the highest possible level. “Nothing happens in this sector without the brigade updating me about it. If civilian events occur, I update them,” he said.
“Not a day passes in which we do not update one another.
This creates resilience among civilians. They know there is a [council] security department that is strongly linked to the IDF, Border Police and police,” he said.
Entering the picture within minutes of a security incident that could affect farming communities, Aizekson takes part in military decisions that affect local civilians.
“We have farmers working their land 20 to 30 meters from the border fence, meaning that any incident that affects them turns into my event,” he said.
“It is true that the current period is quiet, but we know who is on the other side, and they are not sitting on the beach. They are getting organized, and so are we,” Aizekson added.
Once notified of an unfolding attack from Gaza, Aizekson issues instructions to local security coordinators situated in each community, who in turn can activate armed response units. He also activates other departments in the regional council, such as welfare, if necessary.
Since the start of the truce in 2014, the area has been in a state of “emergency routine,” Aizekson said. “There is no such thing as routine here,” he said. “Within seconds, we can flip the switch and go into emergency mode.”
This ability, he said, gives local a sense of security.
“There’s not a day that passes in which we do not prepare ourselves as much as possible.”
Maj. Nader Eyada, a Beduin officer, is the deputy commander of the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion, made up of Beduin, Circassians and Jews. The infantry battalion recently took up border security duties under the Southern Gaza Brigade, and Eyada said that it has achieved “many successes” since arriving in the area, though he could not get into details.
“We defend the local people here and the agricultural communities, which are flourishing,” he said. “The holiday period is seeing many visitors to the area, wandering around freely.”
Hamas is “getting stronger, but our side is too,” Eyada said.
“We provide the local communities here with a sense of security.”
Eyada expressed pride in the battalion’s ethnic and religious diversity, noting that soldiers – many of them volunteers – celebrated Jewish and Muslim holidays, and were happy to respect the faiths of one another.
“We have a strong military, and a strong battalion. I personally see the farmers working their land and people visiting for the holidays.
“This means the IDF is carrying out its mission,” he said.