Security and Defense: Commanding Samaria

Under Col. Nimrod Aloni’s leadership, growing coordination with PA security is allowing IDF to minimize its presence in Palestinian areas.

By
March 4, 2011 16:30
IDF forces patrol in the West Bank

IDF soldiers (R) 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

In 2002, after the Park Hotel bombing which killed 30 people on Passover eve, Maj. Nimrod Aloni, commander of the Paratrooper Brigade’s elite reconnaissance unit, and his men were sent into the Balata refugee camp to begin weeding out the terrorist infrastructure.

Just east of Nablus, Balata is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Less than half a square kilometer in area, close to 40,000 people live inside its small concrete structures. The narrow alleyways are notorious within the IDF for their potential danger.

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During one of their operations, Aloni and his men entered a building in search of terrorists. One of the soldiers was shot and killed and Aloni quickly neutralized the threat. For his dedication to the mission, he received a medal of honor.

In 2010, Aloni returned to Balata as a colonel and as commander of the Samaria Brigade. But during this stint, he does not conduct daily arrest raids in Nablus and Balata.

Instead, he meets with his Palestinian Authority counterparts who are doing an effective job, a senior IDF officer said recently, in cracking down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad without the IDF’s assistance.

Aloni recently decided to remove the long-standing Hawara checkpoint, south of the city, enabling Palestinians to travel freely from northern Samaria to Bethlehem without encountering a single checkpoint along the way.

WHAT IS happening under Aloni’s command is not unique to the Nablus region but is taking place throughout the entire West Bank. The idea is quite simple – as coordination between the IDF and PA security forces continues to grow and prove effective, the IDF can ease restrictions on the civilian population.

The drop in the number of terrorist attacks and the continued quiet in the West Bank are a direct result of the ongoing coordination between IDF regional brigade commanders like Aloni and their Palestinian counterparts.

In many cases, the sides share assessments and intelligence information on a far more intimate level than just coordinating when and where PA security forces can operate.

But while this process is continuing to pick up speed, some IDF officers are slightly suspicious on the growing ties.

“We should respect them and suspect them,” was how one Central Command officer described the relationship he maintains with his PA counterparts. “I remember how we used to work shoulder-to-shoulder with the PA police after the Oslo Accords and we became confused until they turned against us.”

A recent incident demonstrates how this relationship works: A PA police patrol stopped an IDF jeep near Nablus. The soldiers in the jeep got out and cocked their weapons. The PA police immediately got the message and stepped aside.

“The incident near Nablus could have turned into a firefight,” the officer explained. “We did not want that to happen, but there is no question that there is a rise in the PA’s feeling of selfconfidence.”

This growing confidence comes from the success the PA has had in its battle against Hamas in the West Bank and from the growing diplomatic support it is receiving in its quest for statehood. The deployment of six battalions trained by the US and the expected deployment of four more also contributes.

Israel’s concern is twofold. While there has been a steady drop in terrorist attacks and Israeli casualties, Central Command has observed that IDF operational errors are immediately met with swift retaliation by Palestinians, sometimes ones who have no previous affiliation with terror groups.

One example was in early January, when troops stationed at the Bekaot checkpoint in the Jordan Valley shot and killed a Palestinian who was then discovered to have been unarmed but had ignored their calls to stop.

A week later, the dead man’s cousin came to the same checkpoint with a pipe bomb. He was also shot dead.

A week later, another Palestinian rode up to an IDF watchtower near the settlement of Mevo Dotan on a donkey and opened fire with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

The troops returned fire and killed him. A week after that incident, a policeman from Jenin who used to belong to Islamic Jihad, rented a car, drove to a Border Police checkpoint near Shavei Shomron and rammed into a border policeman.

“One mistake at the Bekaot checkpoint led to three more attacks against Israel,” a senior officer said. “This shows that while there might be quiet, the ground is sizzling with tension.”

THE OTHER concern is more basic: Where is all of this headed? The IDF has spent some time pondering why the Palestinian people have remained quiet when the Middle East is rumbling around them. Hosni Mubarak has been toppled in Egypt, as has Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia; riots and unrest continue to rage in Libya, but in Ramallah, Jenin, Tulkarm and Jericho things are quiet, almost too quiet.

The concern is that after the PA elections – currently scheduled for September – the situation could dramatically change. If the disconnect between the PA and Israel continues and negotiations are not renewed, the IDF fears the PA will change its tactics and begin to allow the Palestinian people to hold massive demonstrations throughout the West Bank.

At the same time, the current assessment is that security coordination will continue, since Hamas is a threat to Fatah’s regime.

If there are massive demonstrations throughout the West Bank and the IDF intervenes – for example, if a march gets too close to a Jewish settlement – and people are injured or even killed, Israel will likely face massive international criticism.

FOR THIS reason, regional brigade commanders have instructed officers to hold mental preparation seminars for their soldiers to review the rules of engagement and ensure they will not use violence when there are alternatives.

The IDF is also in talks with the Border Police about establishing rapid response teams which can be quickly deployed throughout the West Bank to contain protests, and is also identifying lookout points where surveillance teams can keep an eye on developments in Palestinian cities and towns.


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