The Israel Defense Forces will significantly boost its deployment along the Egyptian border, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz decided yesterday.
Gantz's decision to beef up both the number of troops and intelligence gathering along the border comes more than a year after the government ordered the army to substantially increase its deployment there. But until now, the IDF has carried out the government's order in the most minimal possible fashion.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued their order last year to Gantz's predecessor, Gabi Ashkenazi, at the recommendation of the National Security Council. The government had earlier decided to build a new, NIS 1.4 billion fence along the border, but construction was expected to take at least two years. Consequently, the NSC recommended significantly increasing the IDF's deployment along the border in the meantime.
The last time the IDF significantly changed its deployment along the Egyptian border was four years ago, when then-GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant created the Saguy Brigade to focus specifically on protecting that border. To further bolster the border's defense, Galant ordered the resource-rich Gaza Division to guard its northern section, which adjoins the Gaza Strip.
But the Saguy Brigade had only a single regular battalion - the light-infantry battalion Caracal, in which men and women serve jointly - and its reservist battalions rotated every three weeks. That was insufficient to prevent thousands of migrants from crossing the border every year.
No significant increase took place last year, despite the government's order and the NSC's follow-up. Nor has there been any significant increase since February, the month when Gantz replaced Ashkenazi and Hosni Mubarak fell from power in Egypt.
Instead, the IDF made do with small, temporary increases at times and places where intelligence indicated that terrorists might try to cross. That is what it did a month ago, when an elite Golani Brigade company and members of the police's special anti-terror unit were stationed north of Eilat.
"It's not clear that a permanent increase in forces along the border would have prevented last week's attack, but the fact that it wasn't done until now shows the General Staff's attitude toward the issue," said one official versed in the matter.
But a senior defense official defended the IDF, noting that the army has many different responsibilities, and extra resources devoted to one front mean less resources for something else. "A decision like that can't be made lightly," he said.
The IDF Spokesman's Office said the NSC "gives the defense establishment various recommendations on various matters. The recommendations are examined and implemented in light of the situation assessment."
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