(photo credit: AP)
A day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would accept the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state, The Jerusalem Post learned on Monday that the transfer of 50 armored personnel carriers from Jordan to the West Bank is being delayed by a disagreement on the installation of heavy machine guns.
The armored vehicles were recently transferred to Jordan from Russia, which two years ago, in an attempt to bolster Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah forces, asked to donate the vehicles to the PA.
At the time, Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave his approval for the transfer of the vehicles but refused to authorize the Palestinians to install heavy machine guns on them.
Israeli defense officials told the Post on Monday that the vehicles arrived in Jordan recently and were slated to cross into the West Bank in the coming weeks, after the disagreement between Israel and the PA regarding the heavy machine guns was resolved.
OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni is opposed to allowing the Palestinians to obtain the machine guns out of concern that they will be used against the IDF. The Palestinians claim that they need the guns to effectively crack down on Hamas throughout the West Bank.
The armored personnel carriers that the Palestinians are supposed to receive is the Russian-made BTR-70 - an eight-wheel, 11.5 ton, 7.535-meter-long vehicle first introduced in the late 1970s. It has a crew of three but can carry an additional seven soldiers, and has a top speed of 80 km/h.
Israeli officials said that the disagreement with the Palestinians was not only about the installation of heavy machine guns but also whether they would be allowed to install stands on the vehicles that could later be used to hold the weapons.
In a demilitarized state, Defense Ministry officials and IDF sources said that Israel would not allow the Palestinians to obtain mortars, rockets or anti-tank missiles.
"We will allow them to have a force with light weapons like the one that the US is currently building for them in the West Bank," one official said in reference to the training of Palestinian battalions that US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton is overseeing in Jordan. Last week, the Post reported that Congress had approved $109 million for the continued training of the battalions.
"We will not allow them to have a military that puts Israel in danger," the official continued. "That is why we said yes to armored vehicles but will say no to tanks and to mortars."
While the IDF has voiced opposition to the transfer of heavy machine guns, the defense official said it was possible Israel would allow the Palestinians to acquire such weapons at a later stage and if the crackdown on Hamas - demonstrated by last week's operations in Kalkilya - continued.