IDF braces for mass West Bank protests ahead of Palestinian statehood bid at UN
While the IDF has no indication that violence will erupt, it worries that PA President Mahmoud Abbas' address at the UN General Assembly today could inflame tempers
The Israel Defense Forces have bolstered troop levels in the West Bank against the possibility of widespread disturbances today. But the Central Command's assessment is that the Palestinian Authority security services will continue to prevent demonstrators from reaching areas under Israeli control.
While the IDF has no indication that violence will erupt, it worries that events in New York - where PA President Mahmoud Abbas will address the UN General Assembly today and formally apply for UN recognition as a state - could inflame tempers, as could Friday prayers in the mosques.
An attack by settlers on Palestinians could also spark wider disturbances, and this possibility is currently one of the IDF's chief concerns.
"We're in touch with rabbis and public leaders, but there's no one to pick up the phone to," explained a senior Central Command officer.
The Islamist Hamas organization has declared today a "day of rage," but the IDF believes Hamas lacks the infrastructure to foment widespread disturbances in the West Bank.
"The PA leadership and its security forces have no interest in the protests getting out of control," the Central Command officer said, and thus far, security coordination with the PA has been excellent. "But the question is whether they can control and contain a large outbreak."
The IDF has stationed five additional regular army battalions in the West Bank to be available if needed. Early next week, it will decide whether to keep them there or return them to their regularly scheduled training. If violence does break out, the army has plans to rapidly bring in another 13 battalions, mostly from the reserves.
The IDF has been trying to monitor social networks like Facebook and Twitter in hopes of getting advance warning of plans for mass demonstrations that could turn violent, but has recently concluded that the information gleaned thereby is unreliable, as many demonstrations announced on these media either never take place or prove to attract far fewer people in reality than they did online.
The police will also be on high alert today, especially in Jerusalem and the north and along the "seam" between Israel and the West Bank. The peak alert times will be after Friday prayers and during Abbas' speech, which is scheduled for 6 P.M. Israel time.
Yaniv Kubovich contributed to this report