On the occasion of Jerusalem Day, The Jerusalem Post spoke to two senior military officers who play a key role in protecting the capital against terrorists, rioters and criminals.
The officers, both deputy commanders of territorial brigades that belong to the Judea and Samaria Division, spoke of the challenges they face, and the solutions the military has put into place to maintain a mostly quiet security environment.
Lt.-Col. Iyas Faris, deputy commander of the Etzion Territorial Brigade, quoted a verse from the Book of Isaiah to describe his brigade’s day-today activities. “‘On your walls, Jerusalem, I have posted watchmen.’ That’s us,” he said. “We guard the boundaries of Jerusalem day and night. We make up the city’s southern wall.”
The brigade operates in Gush Etzion, and its central duties include counter-terrorism arrests, preventing disturbances, and stopping rioters from entering the capital.
“We make countless arrests, of terrorists, rioters and criminal elements intent on harming Jerusalem,” Faris said.
The line between criminal and terrorist activities is a blurry one, the deputy commander argued. “The only difference between them is how they set out to achieve their goals. We have had more than a few instances of criminals turning to terrorism, which is why we have to stop them.
Criminal arrests have led us to disrupt terrorist plots on more than a few occasions,” he said.
Faris has noticed a small rise in disturbances in his sector.
“I can’t define that rise as catastrophic, or something that can’t be dealt with,” he said.
Roads leading into Jerusalem from the south are seeing attacks on vehicles, he added.
In January, Etzion Brigade soldiers arrested members of an Islamic Jihad cell in Bethlehem, and bomb disposal officers “neutralized” a large bomb during the raid. The cell had planted a bomb on a Bat Yam bus in December 2013 (the vehicle was evacuated before the explosion).
The terrorist cell was days away from attempting another attack within the Green Line.
Organized terrorism remains active in the area, but good intelligence, which directs the brigade’s units toward terrorist cells in formation, is keeping the threat under control, said Faris.
“There are other cells out there with intentions to attack, but we have no specific [imminent] warnings,” he saidd. The brigade nips tangible threats in the bud “immediately,” he added.
Lt.-Col. Barak Brodi is the deputy commander of the Binyamin Territorial Brigade, which maintains a line of defense to the north of the capital. He said Palestinian towns and villages in Area C of the West Bank – under Israeli control under the Oslo Accords – are in a power vacuum, as neither the Palestinian Authority nor the Israel Police can operate in them.
As a result, the brigade divides its time evenly between responding to security threats and tackling crime.
The power vacuum, Brodi said, means the brigade must invest a lot of its energy into crime fighting in Palestinian villages just north of Jerusalem.
The brigade responds to intelligence that originates both from the Israel Police (regarding serious crimes) and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
“Part of our understanding is that what happens in Jerusalem will have a big influence on other areas,” Brodi said.
“Events on the Temple Mount can easily spill over into other areas. And the reverse is also true. Palestinians who come to the Temple Mount from Ramallah and Bethlehem also influence the situation in Jerusalem.”
The Binyamin Brigade, together with the Border Police and the Etzion Brigade, have surrounded Jerusalem with a protective envelope of security measures, Brodi said. He described the security barrier as “the inner ring of security, and a very significant component of our ability to secure Jerusalem,” preventing the free passage of potential threats from Samaria into the capital.
On the other hand, in areas where the barrier runs through Palestinian towns and villages, problems remain. “I can’t say that no one gets through the barrier,” he said.
Jerusalem ring neighborhoods, such as Ramot, remain “very challenging” in that respect, the deputy brigade commander said.
Nevertheless, most Palestinians who wish to enter Jerusalem use the barrier’s border crossings, located in Shuafat, Hizme and the central passage of Kalandiya. Border Police and the Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria oversee the crossings, which terrorists routinely target. “This doesn’t usually reach the media, but we discover Palestinians armed with knives, intent on carrying out attacks at the crossings, at least once a month,“ Brodi said.
The structure of the passages, and the deployment of security personnel around them, means that the vast majority of the attempts fail, he added.
The overall security picture in the areas north of Jerusalem is stable, Brodi stressed.
Basic coordination between the IDF and the PA’s security forces continues, and there have been no unusual incidents or intelligence indications of an imminent rise in mass rioting. Despite that fact, the brigade is preparing for the possibility of a rise in violence.
“Today, my subjective feeling is that many Palestinians still want to study, or to go out in the evenings. If you go to Ramallah, and you see the homes and cars there, it’s possible to understand that they have a lot to lose [from a third intifada],” said the officer.
The removal of checkpoints between Palestinian areas, allowing people to travel freely from places like Beit Iksa, a village located between the Ramot neighborhood and Mevaseret Zion, to Nablus, would be jeopardized by a rise in violence, he said.
There have been incidences of rock-throwing and fire bomb attacks on Israeli traffic in the Binyamin region, but such attacks are being contained, Brodi said.