Last week the IDF tersely announced that its soldiers would no longer continue doing guard duty in towns on the border with Lebanon. There was no explanation for the move, which triggered much anger in the communities affected - ones especially vulnerable to terrorist predations.
We can only guess why, at a time in which the IDF itself has significantly raised the level of alertness for its bases along the border, the military has decided that civilians could look after themselves and provide the protection heretofore afforded by army reservists. All intelligence assessments agree that the fact that there have been no casualties in the north of late cannot be construed as signifying a period of calm. The recent rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona is only one indication that things are not really placid.
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Indeed Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah misses no opportunity to declare openly and provocatively that he aims to abduct Israelis and hold them for ransom.
To rely on the border fence and routine military patrols along it - as distinguished from the stationing of guard units within the settlements proper - when the terrorists are in heightened-ambition mode, appears to border on recklessness. We all recall imaginative terrorist infiltration methods to overcome physical barriers via gliders, ladders or tunnels.
One unofficial argument for disbanding the guard units is that they are costly yet grossly inefficient. Most reservists assigned to guard duty, it is asserted, are not combat unit veterans and some barely know how to handle their weapons.
If that is indeed the case, then the IDF's decision becomes all the more lamentable. The rationale of leaving civilians unprotected because the protection is below par makes no sense. The remedy should not be to withdraw said protection, but to improve it. There's no reason for the IDF to tolerate a situation in which soldiers are not up to the job.
The IDF may be right in assuming that local residents could do just as well in guarding their own homes and farms. But that is hardly the point. These are working folks, who put in long hours of agricultural labor just to eke out a living in difficult terrain. To expect them to spend their nights on patrol after a hard day's work is to signal to these citizens that they are second-class and a liability.
The IDF is the people's army and owes adequate defense to all Israelis, regardless of their place of residence. IDF protection isn't a gratuitous favor, but a right. All able-bodied Israelis of certain ages are expected to serve in the IDF and pay taxes to finance it.
Israelis who live in close proximity to the Lebanese border also serve and also pay taxes, just as do Israelis in Judea and Samaria and those who until last August resided in Gaza-area settlements. The notion that the IDF does not owe vulnerable communities extra vigilance, and that they need fend for themselves, comes too uncomfortably close to privatizing the IDF and, worse yet, fragmenting Israeli society.
We do not want situations in which residents of each region or members of each sector will be responsible only to their own and not to the national collective. We do not want farmers from Zar'it, Avivim and Metulla to serve only near home or Sharon-district suburbanites to mind only the area between Tulkarm and Kalkilya.
If the IDF soldiers guarding the towns were not really contributing to security, it is hard to see why the town residents are so concerned, to the point that they are threatening not to send their children to schools and kindergartens that they feel will be unsafe. There are also embittered individuals and groups in the north who already now say they will stop paying taxes or serving in the IDF if its top echelons have determined that all is quiet on the northern front and that there's no need for stationing soldiers near civilian targets.
These angry reactions sound all too familiar. They're indeed identical to some we have been hearing in the past year from beyond-Green-Line settlements. There must be other ways for the IDF to economize and increase its efficiency than needlessly implying the wrong things to good citizens.