In theory, there was nothing unusual about IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi’s visit to the Duchifat Battalion on Tuesday. Kochavi often attends drills, which gives him a chance to meet with tactical-level commanders and soldiers and get a sense of the ground forces’ level of preparation.
Still, Tuesday’s drill was somewhat different, not in content–although it took place in a high-tech installation belonging to the defense technology manufacturer Elbit–but in its timing. Duchifat, like other battalions currently in training, has one eye permanently trained on events in Judea and Samaria and is always prepared to be called up for an operation.
Also, the original target date for Israel’s planned declaration of sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, and settlements in Judea and Samaria is here, and the IDF is currently refraining from bolstering forces in the latter area. Not because the military knows something about what the government intends to do, but because the opposite is true; the prime minister has yet to inform the IDF, the Shin Bet or the Israel Police on his exact intentions.
The IDF has decided not to step up its forces because, despite the inherent volatility of the plans to announce sovereignty, things are still relatively quiet on the ground. The forces already operating there are sufficient to handle the ongoing work of preventing terrorism, arresting fugitives and executing operations in the settlements and on the surrounding roads. The military is concerned that a significant deployment of more personnel would increase friction between Israelis and Palestinians and be a catalyst for increased violence.
However, over the past few months, the IDF has been busy preparing for an outbreak of violence in Judea and Samaria. These preparations are part of a plan to upgrade the army’s infrastructure and technological capabilities in the area. The IDF has acquired new tools for use in an emergency situation–including aircraft and observation posts, intelligence capabilities and professional forces, as well as riot-dispersal equipment.
Meanwhile, all forces have been preparing to handle renewed terrorist violence. Commander of the Judea Samaria Division, Lt. Col. Yaniv Elaluf, has spent the past few weeks drilling all the battalions in Judea and Samaria to ensure that they are ready for any scenario, even though the IDF does not currently have any intelligence about Palestinian intentions to oppose a declaration of sovereignty through violence.
The main worry in the defense and security establishment is that a “negative dynamic” could be created when and if Israel declares sovereignty. Last month, the Palestinian Authority cut off all contact with Israel, while also stopping salaries to P.A. employees in an attempt to create “popular pressure” that would lead to “authentic opposition” to Israel’s sovereignty plans.
For now, the Palestinian public isn’t showing any particular interest in the diplomatic developments. Like Israelis, they are mainly preoccupied with COVID-19 and its economic fallout. But the worse things get, the less quiet Judea and Samaria might become, and frustrations might turn into violence against Israel.
If that comes to pass, the IDF will send a huge contingent of forces into Judea and Samaria, and possibly the Gaza Strip, as well. Although the Hamas leadership in Gaza has not shown any enthusiasm for a possible clash with Israel, it seems unlikely that it would ignore an Israeli declaration of sovereignty, and would be forced to take action in the form of attempted terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria. Hamas might also decide to reinstate the violent border protests, and resume sending arson balloons and kites over the fence in an attempt to start wildfires in Israel.
So the IDF is trying to ready itself in the face of a number of unknown factors: What, exactly, Israel intends to do, and the ramifications of any Israeli action in relation to the Palestinians and other key players in both the region and the world. The prevailing assumption is there will be some response from the Palestinians, but its intensity will correlate to the amount of territory that is brought under Israeli law; the timing of the decision’s implementation; and the steps Israel takes to calm things down. The Defense Ministry has prepared a series of potential benefits for the Palestinians, mostly economic and in the realm of employment, which are intended to take the edge off their criticism of the move and blunt any violent opposition to it.
Defense and security officials expect Israel’s declaration of sovereignty to propel Judea and Samaria into a volatile period, which will last three to four months. This will require the IDF to stay on high alert in an area that thus far has been relatively calm, at the expense of other operational zones. An outbreak of violence also could cause the army to change its operational schedule and require additional budgets at a time of great economic hardship for Israel as a whole.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.