Special report: Israel’s border communities vulnerable to infiltration

“For many years, communities under fire have not fully received the full security support they are entitled to based on their classification.”

Israeli forces are seen near a border fence between the Israeli side of the Golan Heights and Syria, November 4, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli forces are seen near a border fence between the Israeli side of the Golan Heights and Syria, November 4, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Communities on Israel’s borders are at risk of being infiltrated by terrorists due to the failure of the Defense Ministry and IDF to properly fund, coordinate and plan a proper security system, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira wrote in a special report published on Tuesday.
“For many years, communities under fire have not fully received the full security support they are entitled to, based on their classification,” the report said. “In addition, they received less than what was operationally necessary to upgrade and maintain their security apparatus.”
The document focused on the 900,000 Israelis who live in 407 communities along Israel’s borders with Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza as well as all West Bank settlements.
Shapira issued the report as Israel prepares for a possible Iranian missile attack from Syria and continued infiltration attempts along the Gaza border as part of the “Great March of Return” demonstrations that began on March 30.
The report also covers the period of the so-called “knife intifada” that began in October 2015 which left Israelis on West Bank roads particularly vulnerable to stabbing, stoning and vehicular attacks.
The Defense Ministry and the IDF have said they are working on addressing the issues raised in the report, which focused intensely on the period from November 2016 until July 2017, and included a larger look at the period from 2012 until January 2018.
According to Shapira, the IDF published a 2013 report that addressed security deficiencies in those communities highlighted in the 2012 State Comptroller’s Report.
The full 2013 plan, however, was never implemented or fully funded. Nor were all the necessary security adjustments made to combat the knife intifada or the threat of Hamas terrorist tunnels along the Gaza border.
At issue was some NIS 473 million that was budgeted but never delivered to border communities over the last five years.
The miscommunication within the Defense Ministry is so great with regard to budgeting, according to the report, that there are alternative figures with regard to how much money is needed to secure the communities.
The State Comptroller’s Report includes a chart based on a NIS 364m. figure that represents a NIS 254m. funding gap for West Bank settlements, which have been more severely underfunded than other communities under fire.
In 2017, only 9% of the budget shortfall for these border communities went to the settlements, which are at the top of a 2016 priority list set by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
There is also a NIS 43m. budget for the Gaza border, NIS 15m. for the Syrian border, NIS 6m. for the Lebanese border, NIS 25m. for the Jordanian and Egyptian borders and another NIS 21m. for other Seam-Line communities near the Green Line.
The report focused in particular on problems regarding communication, fencing and technology. It noted that failure to provide funds for repairs and upgrades have caused equipment failures which have become more acute with the passage of time.
Twenty communities designated as a special security zone most at risk for infiltration have technology systems from a decade ago, according to the report.
In April 2017, the IDF’s Planning Directorate determined that the security team for these communities was the front line of defense for terrorist infiltrations because most such incidents last for less than 10 minutes and are over by the time the IDF arrives.
Still, the security teams in communities under fire received only 28% of a special communications system known as “orange lightning” devices, despite the fact that budgets were approved for the devices.
In addition, they were only given 63% of the general communications equipment. No date has been set for when this equipment will be available.
The security teams’ communication devices are also not linked to the Israeli Police, the report said.
Many communities have started purchasing their own communication equipment, however, that effort has not been coordinated with the IDF and the Home Front Command.
The absence of such communication equipment makes it difficult for the settlements’ security team and the IDF to coordinate their activities to best deal with a terrorist threat, the report said.
Lack of proper communication equipment caused a delay in the IDF response to the June 2016 Kiryat Arba terrorist attack in which Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, was killed.
In the case of terrorist attacks, lives can be saved or lost in a matter of minutes, as was the case in Kiryat Arba, the report noted.
Lack of cellular coverage also makes it difficult to operate the communication devices. Fifty percent of the area in Judea and Samaria lacks such coverage as does 10% to 15% of the Gaza envelope, the report said.
This means that a security team might have to deal with a terrorist attack without having access to any cellular coverage, the report explained. It gave as an example the December 2016 infiltration into Efrat in which a resident was wounded.
Security teams also lack other equipment, the report stated. The State Comptroller’s Office checked 47 divisions in the Gush Etzion region and discovered that 35 of them lacked the proper equipment.
Physical security fences and smart fences have suffered for lack of funding, which has prevented their repairs even though there is a direct order saying money must be allocated when those barriers are harmed, the report added.
In many cases, lighting must be replaced and security roads must be repaired.
The report in part put the blame for that on disorganization and poor communication between the Home Front Command, the IDF’s Settlements Division and Military Intelligence.
It suggested the implementation of a single centralized authority to deal with defense issues for all border communities.
The Defense Ministry said that over the last two years it had taken many steps to improve security for these communities.
“The work plans for 2017 and 2018 of the Settlement Division and the Home Front Command were formulated in full coordination and transparency between the bodies,” the Defense Ministry said.