Security and Defense: IDF preparing for increase in terror shootings

Senior army sources tell ‘Post’ that terrorists, seeing that knife attacks are ineffective, will turn to armed attacks and attempts to infiltrate communities.

IDF soldiers in the West Bank [File] (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF soldiers in the West Bank [File]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Two soldiers in full combat gear motioned to a white Palestinian car to slow down, as it approached a checkpoint, complete with concrete barricades, west of the Palestinian village of Nahalin.
Grey clouds and cool December air enveloped the rocky slopes of the West Bank, and rain pierced the air, as one soldier approached the car and began talking to the driver. The other hung back, assault rifle at the ready, watching, and alert.
After a few minutes, the soldiers, from the Home Front Command’s Ram Battalion, told the driver to drive on.
“If everything is okay, they continue on their journey. We set up a lot of checkpoints like this recently,” a senior IDF source told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “This was not here a week ago.
“Any vehicle that isn’t checked could contain a terrorist who can continue on to Gush Etzion junction and carry out an attack. We’ll scan the vehicle for potential attackers who are out to stab or run over Israelis.”
But the army and the Ram Battalion are not expecting the months-long campaign of Palestinian attacks to stay in its current form.
It is preparing for a significant escalation, in the form of a rise in firearms attacks, as well as attempted intrusions by armed attackers into West Bank settlements, according to the source, who is from the Ram Battalion.
“This will not end tomorrow. The wave of terrorism will continue – no one can predict for how long.
We will encounter more shootings. It will not be an organized shift, but I expect to see more gun attacks and attempts to infiltrate communities,” the officer said.
“They will try new things, because the current attacks aren’t working. We’ve studied them. Stabbings have not been very effective recently. They will try something else,” he warned.
Security coordination with the Palestinian Authority remains in place, but villages in the Gush Etzion region are under the radicalizing influence of Hamas in Hebron, he added.
His assessment for the future is not particularly optimistic.
“There will still be lone attackers in Gush Etzion, going on stabbing attacks, alongside shooting attacks and attempted intrusions. This is a much more challenging threat,” the source stated.
And the Ram Battalion is preparing accordingly. It is training heavily with firearms and in Krav Maga combat.
“Ultimately, it comes down to one attacker against one soldier. This has become the widespread pattern,” the source said.
Intensive first aid instruction has also become a feature of training.
“What will decide if a wounded person survives an attack or not is the quality of first aid,” he added.
The soldiers from this co-ed battalion secure positions across the western sector of the Etzion territorial brigade, standing for eight hours at a time in the winter cold.
Several years ago, when the Home Front Command’s Ram Battalion was created, it was far from clear that its soldiers would become a central pillar of West Bank infantry security units.
The fourth battalion in the Home Front Command, Ram, in its previous incarnation, was responsible for operating antiaircraft guns in the air force.
It was then shut down and moved to the Home Front Command’s conscripted brigade, whose battalions today serve a dual role. They are infantry units, and they undertake search and rescue missions during wartime, specializing in dealing with rocket and missile impact zones.
The Ram Battalion has been in the West Bank for six months, and still has a few months to go.
“Most of the year, we have been engaged in Judea and Samaria. We are supposed to skip over to the Binyamin Brigade next,” the source said.
Despite its intense schedule, the battalion must still prepare for its core role, search and rescue missions during wartime.
It trains every week, at the squad and platoon level, to ensure readiness, and holds a battalion-wide exercise once a year.
“When we entered in June, the sector experienced incidents. On the Hussan bypass road, we saw Molotov cocktail and rock throwing. We went to work and lowered the number of incidents, down to between one and two a week. Weeks went by with no incidents. Then, from October, the escalation began. Violence increased here, too. We still managed to keep the level of incidents relatively low,” the source said.
On the other hand, reality here has become more stark. The increase in rioting has also meant that soldiers operating in villages have been increasingly confronted by masked attackers.
“In the past three weeks, we saw a decrease in incidents. Our way is to be one step ahead of the other side. We act offensively, deep in the field. We initiate a lot of activities, such as arrests, conversations to issue warnings, in which we visit homes where we know inhabitants are planning terrorist acts. We warn them. This occurs in cases where the Shin Bet can’t make arrests. It’s very effective,” said the officer.
“We are working to prevent intrusions by terrorists into communities. That is something that could occur in the future,” he cautioned.
“Ultimately, we also wish to safeguard a sound fabric of life for the Palestinian population. We understand that those carrying out violent attacks are a small percentage of the population.”
To some extent, normalcy still exists here. The battalion sees Israelis from nearby Betar Illit shopping in the village of Hussan, and hundreds of workers from Hussan entering Betar Illit on a daily basis.
The co-ed battalion treats its male and female soldiers and officers equally, giving them the same missions.
The battalion experienced a few stabbing incidents since October, including an attack by a female knife assailant on a security guard, and a male stabber who wounded a Beduin IDF scout in late October.
The Ram Battalion has two commanders.
The first, the Home Front Command brigade commander, deals with the force buildup process, while the second, the Etzion brigade commander, is the one who activates the battalion on a daily basis, as it spends more time than ever in the field. Its units are deployed all around Gush Etzion.
Although the battalion is preparing for a spike in shootings, the source said that there has been no change whatsoever in rules of engagement.
“The rules are very clear. Every soldier knows when to shoot and when not to. In cases where it wasn’t clear, we clarified matters. The soldiers are clear on this,” he said.
“We open fire in life-threatening situations.
We differentiate between a rock thrown at a civilian vehicle and a rock thrown at an armored jeep. Where there is no clear immediate threat to life, we do not open fire.”