Defending the border

THE IDF’S response to Sunday's "Naksa" border protests could not have been much more seriously planned or more cool-headedly implemented.

IDF soldiers at Syrian border Naksa Day 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
IDF soldiers at Syrian border Naksa Day 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
News reports – even unconfirmed and dubious ones – that IDF soldiers had opened fire on unarmed Syrian- Palestinian and killed more than 20 of them would normally be likely to arouse the ire of innumerable countries across the globe.
Yet international reactions to the violent “Naksa Day” incidents Sunday near the towns of Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights and Kuneitra in Syria have been relatively subdued. In response to Israel’s determined effort to rebuff attempts by hundreds of Palestinian “refugees” – most of whom were actually born in Syria to families resident in Syria for generations – to overrun the Israeli border in the North, the US State Department issued a statement emphasizing that “Israel, like any sovereign nation, has a right to defend itself” and went on to say that “provocative actions like this should be avoided.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned “all actions intended to provoke violence.”
And yet, both the UN secretary-general and the State Department also included in their statements thinly veiled criticism of Israel. The State Department called on “all sides to exercise restraint,” seemingly implying that Israel had not. And Ban referred to Israel’s border with Syria on the Golan Heights as the “area of separation on the occupied Syrian Golan” – not only questioning Israeli sovereignty there but asserting Syrian rights to territories it lost after initiating military offensives on Israel first in 1967 and again in 1973. (Syria rejected outright an Israeli offer to return the Golan Heights in exchange for peace immediately after the Six Day War.)
The US and UN reactions reflected a certain understanding of Israel’s difficult predicament, but also seemed to contain in them the seeds of future tension should incidents like Sunday’s repeat themselves. In the US State Department and, less surprisingly, in the UN, there appears to be a lack of appreciation for the fact that there is precious little Israel can do to prevent a toll of fatalities should its borders come under relentless mass onslaught – short of giving up its right to sovereignty and the right to defend itself.
THE IDF’S response Sunday could not have been much more seriously planned or more cool-headedly implemented. Unlike May 15’s “Nakba Day” incidents, when a small contingent of soldiers lacking proper crowd control devices were taken by surprise and overrun, resulting in over 100 Palestinian breaching the border, this time the IDF was ready. Ample forces were concentrated near Majdal Shams and Kuneitra and supplied with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The border fence had been reinforced, trenches dug, minefields checked and remarked. Numerous high-ranking officers were at the scene to provide soldiers with a sense of security and to react quickly to changes on the ground.
Soldiers followed clear rules of engagement: In the first stage of confrontation, potential infiltrators were warned in Arabic with megaphones not to approach the border; if they were not deterred, nonlethal riot dispersal means like tear gas were used; if they continued to approach, warning shots were fired in the air. Soldiers were permitted to aim fire directly at the infiltrators, and only then below the waist, when they actually reached the fence, but not before.
Syrian television, broadcasting with rare openness from the front, claimed over 20 of its citizens were killed by the IDF. This, of course, is the same news outlet, controlled by Bashar Ashad’s ruthlessly violent regime, that entirely failed to report that, on the very same day that Palestinians violently commemorated Israel’s successful defense of its borders against the attack of the combined armies of four Arab countries in the June 1967 Six Day War, over 30 peaceful Syrian demonstrators calling for Assad’s ouster had been gunned down by military forces in the north of the country. Previous Assad atrocities have been just as diligently unreported.
More reliable are IDF reports, issued after an investigation, which found that relatively few live rounds had been fired, that the death toll was likely far lower, and that a number of rioters had been killed when Molotov cocktails that they, the protesters, had been throwing set off an antitank minefield near Kuneitra.
The US State Department’s readiness to uphold Israel’s “right to defend itself” and the UN secretary-general’s condemnation of “action intended to provoke violence” are encouraging. But their criticism of Israeli “violence,” based on highly unreliable information, raises familiar concerns. Do they expect Israel to allow its northern border to be overrun by hordes of “refugees” seeking to annul Israel as a Jewish state?
Referring to Israel’s justified defense of its sovereign borders, in the face of Syrian-motivated provocations, as “violence” will only encourage additional such provocations in the future – in part, as a means of diverting international attention away from atrocities being perpetrated daily in Syria. Unequivocal denunciation of such provocations, on the other hand, accompanied by unequivocal support for Israel’s right to protect its borders with appropriate measures, would help prevent future such incidents by taking away their prime incentive – the delegitimization of Israel.