(photo credit: AP)
Following a slight delay in delivery and despite opposition from within the IDF, Israel will facilitate the transfer of 25 armored personnel carriers next week to Palestinian Authority security forces in Nablus, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approved the shipment two weeks ago over the objection of his own security forces, which then held up the transfer of the Russian-made armored vehicles after the Palestinians demanded that they be fitted with mounted machine guns.
Olmert's decision to allow the transfer was made in line with the Israeli policy of strengthening PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his security forces in the face of Hamas attempts to take over the West Bank like it took control of the Gaza Strip in June.
Defense officials said Thursday that the armored vehicles will be transferred early next week. The vehicles will be transferred into the West Bank via Jordan. They will be deployed in Nablus, where they will be used by the Palestinian police. Defense officials said that while the Palestinians backed down from their demand to have machine guns installed on the vehicles, it was still possible that they would do so unilaterally once the transfer was completed.
"There are heavy machine guns floating around the West Bank and if they want to, there is no real way to stop them from putting the weapons inside the vehicles and taking them out when they want to," a senior defense official said.
This is the first time the PA will receive armored vehicles since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000. In 1995, PA security forces in the Gaza Strip received 45 BRDM-2 vehicles, all later destroyed in Israeli air strikes.
The officials said that despite concern within the IDF over the transfer, if needed, it would be easy for Israel to destroy the new armored vehicles. "They do not pose such a threat since, if we would have a need to, it is fairly easy to destroy them from the air," the official said.
The BRDM-2 is driven by a gasoline engine that also supplies power to a water jet for amphibious travel. It has a crew of four - a driver, codriver, commander and gunner - and is fully protected against small arms fire and artillery shrapnel.
The decision to transfer the armored vehicles came under harsh criticism from right-wing lawmakers who said the move would lead to a further deterioration in Israeli security.
Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu warned last month that the armored vehicles would eventually fall into the hands of Hamas.
Meanwhile Thursday, IDF troops shot and killed two Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip, killing one man and moderately wounding a second, Palestinian medical officials said. The army said it opened fire at two men next to the border fence after they were spotted planting an explosive device.