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June 10, 2020 6:15 am

Israel’s Defense Establishment Readies for Scenarios Connected to Sovereignty Push

avatar by Yaakov Lappin / JNS.org

Opinion

An Israeli solider searches a Palestinian car near the West Bank city of Nablus, Jan.10, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Mohamad Torokman.

JNS.org – Israel’s defense establishment is preparing for the full spectrum of scenarios that could result from a government decision to proceed with applying sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria — also known internationally as the West Bank.

Due to the large degree of uncertainty that surrounds the potential responses by Palestinians and the wider region to such a move, planners in the Israel Defense Forces are taking a large number of potential factors into account in their contingency planning.

The military has been examining scenarios that range from the less severe, such as sporadic violent attacks and pockets of disturbances in the West Bank, to the most severe, which could include a full-blown intifada in the West Bank and a decision by Hamas in the Gaza Strip to exploit the tensions to fire rockets into Israel, creating two active conflict zones.

Military planners also have to factor in the possibility that countries in the region will alter their policies towards Israel as part of the reaction to sovereignty. This could, in theory, see Jordan downgrade or even halt its security coordination with Israel along the lengthy Israeli-Jordanian border, which has been mostly quiet for years.

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In public statements, the IDF high command has taken care to stay clear of the political debate surrounding the possibility of applying sovereignty, focusing instead on its role as subordinate to the government’s decision and ensuring that it is prepared to take on any mission necessary.

Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz instructed IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi to “speed up the IDF’s preparations,” said a statement from Gantz’s office. It added that Gantz briefed the chief of staff regarding developments in “the political arena.”

The move appears to be the latest signal that the defense establishment has switched gears in terms of its preparations.

The IDF maintains a relatively high number of units in the West Bank during routine times for counter-terrorism raids and the protection of Israeli communities. It is also prepared to mobilize back-up battalions in the area if a flare-up in violence occurs.

In recent days, Gantz has also declared an intention to appoint a figure to lead all of the coordination for the “necessary maneuvers in this [the West Bank] arena.” According to Gantz’s office, a Defense Ministry team from multiple disciplines will also be assembled to generate recommendations regarding operational matters in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has undertaken a political, media, and legal campaign designed to torpedo Israel’s sovereignty plans.

According to a recent report released by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, “This campaign, which is still in its very early stages, is oriented at the international arena, mainly the European Union, the inter-Arab arena, Jordan, and international judicial institutions, mainly the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The campaign combines practical steps, mainly stopping the security and civilian coordination and contact between the PA and Israel, with steps taking place currently through diplomatic channels.”

While the PA has implemented a halt to security and civilian coordination with Israel, the report said, “It is still unclear how it will be carried out, how quickly, and what alternatives to the existing arrangements will be found.”

Its efforts, occurring after the COVID-19 crisis, are taking place at a time “when the PA is still in the midst of its worst economic recession in two decades,” noted the Center.

“Such a recession requires enhanced economic cooperation with Israel, rather than cutting it off or putting obstacles in its way,” it added. “Compromising the security coordination with Israel may also prove counterproductive to the Palestinian Authority, as it will be more vulnerable to subversion by Hamas.”

PA chief Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership are well aware of the heavy price that they and the Palestinian population could pay if they proceed with a prolonged freeze of coordination with Israel, the center argued. “However, contrary to the past, it seems that this time they do intend to implement it, fully or at least partially, as a major component in the PA’s campaign to foil Israel’s intentions of annexation.”

Col. (res.) Moshe Elad, one of the founders of the security coordination between the IDF and the PA’s security forces, told JNS last month that if the PA continues with its cessation of contacts with Israel into the long-term future, it would place itself in existential danger.

“The chances the PA would be taking if they keep this up would be very big, including the risk of an armed coup against them,” he said. “Hamas has a presence in the West Bank. Without Israel, it would grow stronger.”

Yaakov Lappin is a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He specializes in Israel’s defense establishment, military affairs, and the Middle Eastern strategic environment.

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