The IDF plans to begin setting ambushes next week in olive groves throughout the West Bank in an effort to nab settlers behind the uprooting of thousands of Palestinian olive trees.
The defense establishment's main concern, one security official said Thursday, was that settlers sneaking into olive groves could run into the Palestinian harvesters and gun battles could ensue.
"It begins with cutting down a tree and then with people getting killed," the official said. "This needs to be stopped before things spin out of control."
While settler attacks on olive groves is not a new phenomenon, the defense establishment has decided to take a hard line against the perpetrators after over 1,200 trees were uprooted, vandalized or set on fire in 2005. According to the army, over 2,400 trees were uprooted in the West Bank since 2003.
But while the army plans to launch special operations to catch the perpetrators, officials on Thursday slammed what they called the police's constant failure to arrest the suspects. On Tuesday, head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Yuval Diskin criticized the police's failure to effectively prevent settlers from vandalizing Palestinian olive orchards.
Police deflected the criticism on Thursday, citing as an example last month's arrest of an Eilon Moreh settler whose identity card was found in a Palestinian olive grove next to trees that had been cut down with a chain saw. The settler, police said, was arrested the day after and was transferred to a Shin Bet facility in Ashkelon, where he was held for 21 days.
Despite limited success, police admitted they had overall failed to eradicate the problem. Over the years and especially during the olive-picking season, hundreds of policemen have been deployed in the West Bank to prevent friction between Palestinian harvesters and nearby settlers. But without real-time intelligence, one officer said, the police's hands were tied.
In an effort to prevent future attacks that officials warned could lead to bloodshed, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz appointed Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlev, the coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, to coordinate the police, army and the Shin Bet to curb the phenomenon.