OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot was in the Kirya military
headquarters last Thursday for a series of meetings.
In the morning, he
participated in the weekly General Staff meeting, and in the afternoon he
reviewed operational plans for the upcoming week.
One of the plans
included the command’s preparations for Nakba Day, the Palestinian day of
“catastrophe” marking the establishment of the State of Israel.
IDF was mostly concerned about a violent escalation in the West Bank, Eizenkot’s
focus was on Lebanon, with its large population of Palestinian refugees. Every
year, there are protests along the Lebanese border with Israel, but this year,
due to heightened tensions with the Palestinian Authority and the ongoing
upheaval in the Arab world, there was concern that things could get out of
As a result, at the beginning of May, Eizenkot had ordered
Brig.-Gen. Assaf Orayun, head of the Planning Directorate’s Strategic Planning
Division, to pass on a message to the Lebanese Armed Forces, via UNIFIL, that
the IDF would respond harshly to provocations along the border.
got the message across, and the LAF deployed large forces on Sunday along the
border near the village of Maroun a-Ras, opening fire at protesters who tried
approaching the fence. Ten Lebanese were killed that day; the IDF believes that
most – if not all – were killed by LAF and not IDF fire.
Contrary to some
media reports, the Northern Command did not completely neglect the border with
Syria. Based mostly on intelligence collected from open sources like Facebook,
Twitter and the Arab media, the IDF understood that a large demonstration was
brewing on the Syrian side of the Kuneitra Crossing. Large forces, armed with
riot gear and crowd dispersion equipment, were deployed nearby.
why when the Syrian protesters rammed the border fence opposite the Druse
village of Majdal Shams on Sunday, there were at first barely a handful of
soldiers nearby. By the time reinforcements arrived, it took time to gain
control of the situation, and around 100 infiltrators had already succeeded in
crossing into the country.
WHILE THE exact details of the failures
surrounding the Majdal Shams infiltrations are still under investigation within
the IDF, one thing is clear: Israel’s deterrence has eroded, and its enemies and
adversaries – Hezbollah, Syria, Hamas and the PA – clearly see that there is
something to be gained by continuing demonstrations along the border.
rationale is obvious – if Israel can’t stop 100 people from crossing the Syrian
border, how will it stop 1,000 or even 10,000 from crossing in from Jordan, Gaza
or the West Bank? This question is currently at the heart of ongoing
deliberations within the IDF General Staff and the Ground Forces Command, amid
predictions that such protests and so-called peaceful marches will increase
ahead of, and particularly following, the PA’s bid for unilateral declaration of
statehood at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
reported in The Jerusalem Post this week, Brig.- Gen. Miki Edelstein, the IDF’s
chief infantry and paratrooper officer, is close to completing the composition
of a new operational doctrine for dealing with largescale
As demonstrated on Sunday, though, no matter how much new
equipment the IDF purchases and how many training exercises it holds for its
troops, there is nothing better than having someone else contain the
demonstration instead. This was lacking in the Golan Heights, where Syrian
troops were spotted simply standing by and watching as the protesters broke down
the fence into Israel. The contrast with the Lebanese border – where the LAF
opened fire at protesters, sparing the IDF from having to act on its own – was
As a result and so as not to embarrass the LAF – which the IDF
believes it will need again one day to stop future protests – the government
decided not to release a grainy video taken by the army, which showed the LAF
shooting into the crowd and which could have helped Israel counter claims that
it killed the Lebanese protesters.
ISRAEL’S THIRD front on Sunday – the
West Bank – was originally expected to be the most volatile, but actually turned
out to be the most quiet. There were two main reasons for this.
the IDF was prepared in the West Bank, and ironically even sent units that had
been training in the Golan Heights down there as reinforcements.
military commanders met with their Palestinian counterparts a number of times in
the week before Nakba Day and agreed on places the protests would be allowed, as
well as red lines that could not be crossed.
The second reason was that
the PA did not allow the protesters to push the situation out of control, and
coordinated with the IDF throughout the day.
The PA was unique in this
sense, since on the one hand, it actively encouraged the demonstrations, but on
the other hand, it deployed its own security forces – some in uniform and some
plainclothes – to restrain them.
Coordination with the Civil
Administration for Judea and Samaria also continued throughout the day.
Yossi Stern, head of the IDF’s District Coordination Office for
Ramallah, arranged for more than 60 ambulances to enter the middle of the
protest near the Kalandiya Checkpoint and evacuate wounded Palestinians. Stern
received requests from the PA and passed them on to the IDF brigade commander,
who then ordered the troops to stop firing tear gas and to allow the ambulances
in and out.
This coordination with the PA on a day of protests is in
itself surprising, considering that such protests are aimed at raising
international awareness of the “occupation,” delegitimizing Israel and gaining
sympathy and support for the PA’s planned declaration of statehood.
the other hand, it makes sense for both sides. Israel wants to do everything
possible not to fall into the trap being set for it, which could easily have
happened with a large body count in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.
President Mahmoud Abbas also does not want to lend a hand to political
adversaries of his own, like Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti and former
PA intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi, who recently broke away from Fatah and are
both believed to be working behind the scenes on the protests.
why, for the time being and as long as it works in its favor, the IDF top
command believes there is no reason to change the ongoing coordination with the
IN GENERAL, the arguments in the IDF are now about how to respond to
Some officers argue that there is a need to restore
deterrence and send a message that Israel’s sovereign borders are not a
playground, and the way to do that is by using aggressive force. Others are
concerned by the potential political fallout and the diplomatic effect of such a
move, particularly as the upheaval continues throughout the Arab world and the
PA continues to play its role as the underdog in the ongoing conflict with