A few months ago, as the number of Facebook users who pressed “Like” on pages
that called for a third intifada and large-scale demonstrations on Sunday
increased, the IDF began to sit up and take notice.
May 15 is the day the
Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, the “catastrophe” that was the establishment
of the State of Israel.
At first, the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel
Security Agency) downplayed the significance of the Facebook pages and the
impact they would have on the ground. But then the entire Middle East shook, and
Facebook proved to have extraordinary power to mobilize the masses in Cairo’s
Tahrir Square as it helped opposition groups topple president Hosni
As the number of “Likes” continued to grow and eventually
reached around 350,000 on over 100 different pages, the IDF and Shin Bet decided
to see if it was possible to analyze the people who were pledging their support
for the demonstrations – who they were, what their background was and how
committed they were to the cause.
The rough assessment that evolved from
the Facebook analysis was that the demonstrations would not be as bad as some
had initially expected. Yes, the Palestinians will march and they will also
likely throw rocks at IDF checkpoints and passing Israeli cars. But no, they
will likely not come armed to the demonstrations or open fire at Israeli
This does not mean that the IDF is not taking the weekend of
potential demonstrations seriously. The opposite is more accurate, as can be
seen by the massively increased deployment of IDF units and Border Police
companies in the West Bank to reinforce battalions there – the largest such
deployment in the West Bank in the past three years.
within the intelligence community, however, is that the Palestinian Authority,
which is quietly backing the demonstrations, will want to walk a thin
On the one hand, the PA wants enough violence to grab Israel’s
attention and make the Netanyahu government understand it will pay a price if it
continues to do nothing in the aftermath of a planned unilateral declaration of
Palestinian statehood at the United Nations General Assembly in September. At
the same time, however, the PA does not want too much violence, since it could
then lose the legitimacy for its statehood claim, as well as the world’s growing
FOR THE IDF, the main goal is to avoid Palestinian casualties.
To do this, commanders have put a focus on mental preparations and strengthening
soldiers’ resilience to enable them to stand under a volley of rocks and even
Molotov cocktails but not open fire except as a last resort.
instead, will be put on crowd-dispersion techniques and technology such as the
“Scream,” a device that emits penetrating bursts of sound that leave protesters
dizzy and nauseated.
For Israel, this will not be easy. In recent years,
there have been a number of cases of accidental deaths caused by IDF soldiers.
If this happens over the weekend, not to mention if right-wing Jewish activists
take advantage of the potential pandemonium and try to attack Palestinians as
well, this could be enough to bring Arabs around the region into the streets –
within Israel, too. With the momentum of the ongoing upheaval in the Middle East
behind the protesters, Israel will find itself in a very difficult
On Wednesday, the regional brigade commanders in the Central
Command met with their Palestinian counterparts for a final briefing before the
anticipated Nakba protests. These meetings between the sides have been taking
place since 2007 – following Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip – but
have significantly increased in frequency and value of content in recent
For many of the commanders, the meetings were not easy in the
beginning. Officers like the commander of the Samaria Brigade, Col. Nimrod
Aloni, and the commander of the Efraim Brigade, Col. Avi Gil, came of age as
young company commanders during the beginning of the second intifada in
They remember the joint patrols together with the PA and how
quickly the Palestinians turned their guns on their Israeli
As a result, even though these commanders invested
resources and time in cultivating relationships with their PA counterparts, for
many of them, the popular Hebrew aphorism “respect and suspect them” is their
As such, these commanders have been preparing their soldiers
for a wide range of scenarios, from the eruption of a third intifada –
considered unlikely – to widespread demonstrations and disturbances that include
stone-throwing and low-level violence.
The IDF’s Central Command is also
in the midst of preparations for the day after the declaration, ranging from
purchasing more tear gas and rubber bullets, training forces in crowd-dispersion
techniques and preparing for an end to coordination with PA security
THE DEFENSE establishment’s first main test when it comes to
coordination will come later this month, when Israel needs to approve the
transfer of the PA’s eighth battalion from the West Bank to Jordan for training
under the supervision of the US security coordinator for Israel and the PA,
Lt.-Gen. Michael Moeller.
The approval, senior defense officials said
this week, will depend on the outcome of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation
agreement signed last week.
OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi and
Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria head Brig.-Gen. Moti Elmoz have
already drafted what they call a “reconciliation scale,” which allows Israel to
evaluate the practical consequences of the unity agreement – such as the release
of Hamas prisoners by the PA, the enlistment of Hamas operatives into the
security forces and the reestablishment of Hamas’s Dawa charities, which served
as the foundation for the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank.
last Friday, just a few days after the agreement was signed between PA President
Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Cairo, the PA allowed Hamas
preachers, who had been banned from mosques in the West Bank since 2007, to
attend prayer services, accompanied even by Hamas flags and
WHILE THE hope in the IDF is that this weekend will pass
quietly, even if it does, all eyes will then move a few months up the calendar
to the next showdown – after the General Assembly vote on statehood.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu boycotting the current PA government due to
the reconciliation agreement, Israel will be unlikely to make concessions
following the declaration; as a result, the IDF will continue to patrol the West
Bank and operate, if needed, within West Bank cities.
But the situation
will have changed. A military operation inside Jenin or Nablus following a
non-binding UNGA declaration might be explained due to a terror threat, but it
will be perceived more widely worldwide as an invasion of another state’s
territory and an Israeli violation of another nation’s sovereignty.
might also change after a statehood declaration is that Palestinian
demonstrations might become fiercer – so fierce as to be difficult for the PA’s
security forces to contain. That is, if they want to.