IDF prepares for violent worst-case-scenarios after West Bank annexation

MILITARY AFFAIRS: The IDF isn’t sure of its role in a West Bank annexation move, but it’s already preparing for the specter of wide-spread violence.

THE SETTLEMENT OF Elon Moreh, with Nablus in the background. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
THE SETTLEMENT OF Elon Moreh, with Nablus in the background.
As the clock counts down to July 1 – the date touted for the beginning of Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank, and specifically the Jordan Valley – the IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Israel Police and civilian security organizations are planning for the worst-case scenarios.
While security forces are still in the dark regarding the whens and hows of the implementation of sovereignty over areas that will affect the local Palestinian populations, they have been readying troops and civilian bodies for the moment that the curtain of uncertainty is lifted and there is a return to the violence on the levels seen during the First and Second Intifadas.
The IDF has been preparing for the various scenarios for several months under the name “Shahar Beharim” (“Dawn in the Mountains”), but it has been doing so in the dark and with no clear information on what exactly is expected to happen.
“No one knows what’s going to happen, but that doesn’t really bother me because we are prepared for the worst-case scenario,” Meni Blonder, director of security of the Binyamin Regional Council in the central West Bank, told The Jerusalem Post.
Blonder explained that the defense establishment has prepared for a wide range of scenarios should annexation happen and Palestinians begin to target soldiers and civilians in response.
Last week, security and emergency services held a large-scale drill simulating a mass-casualty attack. The drill included IDF troops, Magen David Adom paramedics, firefighters and civilian security bodies. They trained on rescuing civilians who had been targeted by several Palestinian terrorists who attacked a main road with sniper fire and IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
That was just one of the many scenarios that security and rescue services have prepared. Others include anything from an increase in stone-throwing, shooting attacks, infiltrations into Jewish communities, stabbings, vehicular ramming attacks, IEDs and more.
The attacks can be carried out by lone wolves or by organized groups, including by members of Fatah’s armed militia, Tanzim, and by terrorist groups like Hamas, which will take advantage of the situation to carry out deadly attacks.
But, the director said, the worst-case scenario would see the various branches of the Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) turn their guns on Israel.
According to data released by the PA, the forces are comprised of 60,000 personnel, who are mostly equipped with small arms. While the United States and Jordan have been key in training, arming and financing the PASF, several countries have trained its personnel over the years and the PASF has also worked closely with the IDF.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has called security coordination with Israel “sacred,” but the vast majority of Palestinians view the security coordination negatively, seeing it as serving the “occupation” and its needs.
The Palestinian Authority has already announced that it has ceased all measures of security and civilian coordination with Israel, a move that comes despite the leadership being well aware that the cessation of the coordination will come with a heavy toll.
Last week, Ynet reported that despite the alleged freeze of security coordination, the PASF thwarted a major attack against IDF troops near Jenin. According to the report, a terror cell had planted 30 pipe bombs along a route usually taken by troops when they enter the city to arrest suspects. All the pipe bombs and a shotgun were recovered by the PASF.
According to Blonder, despite reports that there is still security coordination behind closed doors and that the PASF is continuing to work to prevent attacks against Israelis, all dialogue has stopped.
The PASF has been instrumental in thwarting attacks against IDF forces and Israeli citizens, and experts have warned that the military would need to increase troops in the area to make up for the lack of intelligence and boots on the ground, which until now were filled by the Palestinians.
THE MILITARY has also trained troops for escalation scenarios, prepared equipment and weapons, strengthened coordination with the Shin Bet and police, and has examined the legal aspects that such a move would entail, such as which body would be in charge of securing the area should annexation take place.
While recent years have seen a decrease in violence in the West Bank, “Violence comes in waves and all because of different reasons,” Blonder told the Post from his office, adding that the threats in the area are different from those on other fronts such as the Gaza Strip and in the North.
According to data published by the Shin Bet, the main kinds of attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem tend to be: stone-throwing, firebombs, pipe bombs, small-arms fire, arson, vehicular attacks, stabbings and grenades.
In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, attacks consist of small-arms fire, rocket-launches, firebombs, IEDs, anti-tank fire, grenades, mortar shells, sniper fire, pipe bombs, arson and anti-aircraft fire.
While it has been the quietest in years along the front with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, there has been an increase in attacks in the West Bank from March 2020 (50) to May 2020 (66), with the majority being firebombs thrown at Israelis.
Senior IDF sources have said the military wanted quiet in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the past year in order to focus on threats in the North – Iran and Hezbollah – but are following the situation with concern because of the potential for violence.
One of the scenarios being readied by the IDF is that Hamas and other terrorist groups in the coastal enclave may exploit the tensions in the West Bank and begin to launch rockets into Israel in order to create conflict on two fronts at the same time.
Blonder told the Post that should violence increase following annexation, security forces are prepared for more serious attacks, similar to the deadly Danny’s Spring attack in August 2019, which killed 17-year-old Rina Shnerb.
Due to the possibility that terrorists might plant more IEDs in natural springs or other areas frequented by Israeli families, security forces have heightened their alert in such locations, the source said.
The military already deploys a relatively high number of units in the West Bank for the protection of Israeli communities and to conduct raids targeting suspected terrorists. While the IDF has not yet deployed additional troops to reinforce those already stationed in the West Bank, there are several reserve battalions that could be called up should violence escalate.
But, the number of troops that might be needed to thwart threats in the West Bank could impair the army’s preparedness on other fronts, which could take advantage of the situation to carry out attacks against vulnerable targets.
With tensions rising, the US State Department issued a security alert last week warning American citizens visiting the West Bank that “violence can occur with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, government checkpoints, markets and shopping facilities or government facilities.”
Israel’s yet-unknown annexation plan has drawn a flurry of regional and international condemnations and warnings. Though recent reports indicate that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely delay most of the annexation moves and focus instead on the large blocs of Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel and Gush Etzion in order to reduce friction with neighboring Jordan.
But, any annexation plan that includes a significant portion of Area C would still cause conflict with the Palestinians, who would see it as an end to any viable Palestinian state achieved through diplomatic means.
If one thing is clear to Israel’s defense establishment, it’s that with Palestinians seeing no other way to bring about a Palestinian state except by violence, the motivation to carry out attacks and the legitimacy given to actions that kill or harm Israeli citizens or soldiers will only rise.
And that is exactly what they are preparing for.