After a week of violence by extremist settlers, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz conveyed a clear message with their appointment Thursday as GOC Central Command someone who has been the settlers' number one target for barbs.
Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon's is eminently qualified for the post, but there is also a special sting in the knowledge that in the current stormy atmosphere, the settler leaders will have to get along with the man whose attitude, they say, is "stacked against the settler movement."
The appointment came at the end of another hectic day in the West Bank. Before dawn, security forces completed the evacuation of the tiny outpost of Mitzpeh Yitzhar on a hill south of Nablus.
The families living there, who are part of the Chabad Hasidic movement, had already left after consulting the writings of the Lubavitcher rebbe, whom they concluded prohibited them from opposing an evacuation with violence. Still, defense officials sent 500 police and hundreds of soldiers to the site, along with several senior officers.
Mitzpeh Yitzhar, which the settlers have vowed to rebuild, is the least of the IDF's problems. The 10 families living at Ramat Gilad - the second outpost the state has told the High Court of Justice it will evacuate by the end of the year - expect hundreds of extreme right-wing activists to turn out to support them. For the first time in a long time, soldiers and police will be outfitted with riot gear.
An officer in the General Staff, said, perhaps in an overstatement, that live fire might be directed at the forces during one of the coming evacuations; this requires special psychological preparation of the soldiers.
Col. Tzur Harpaz, the deputy brigade commander who was injured by a stone thrown at his head, had approached the rioters who had entered the Ephraim Brigade headquarters without his rifle and without body armor. When he was attacked, his driver came out of his jeep with a truncheon to hit the attackers, but Harpaz pushed him back.
The next time, it may be assumed, the IDF will respond differently.
Sources at Central Command concede that it was a serious mistake that there were very few arrests after Monday night's incidents.
Meanwhile, while the settler leaders are considering their profits and losses on the week, extremists can take satisfaction in knowing that deterrence has worked. The security forces are having to work very hard to evacuate every outpost, while thugs continue to go wild. On Thursday, while Mitzpeh Yitzhar was being evacuated, another mosque was set alight in the village of Burqa - a clear attempt to drag the Palestinians into an escalation.
Senior officials in the Palestinian Authority blamed the Israeli government for the mosque arsons and warned about the implications. And Hamas is vowing revenge.
These statements should not be taken lightly. The many stone-throwing incidents on roads Thursday were not coincidental. It seems only a matter of time until a revenge attack is carried out against a settlement.
"We know who is behind the previous arson attacks. The difficulty is evidence," a senior IDF officer said, adding that without evidence, no one can be brought to trial.
The army and the police seem dubious about the value of the steps Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced against the extreme right, on Thursday. It seems unlikely that ideological offenders will be tried in military courts at this time.
The police in the Judea and Samaria District are a weak link in the fight against the zealots. With positions for a mere 1,000 police, of which only 850 are now filled, it's Israel's smallest police district with one of its toughest missions. "The decisions are right but the test is on the ground," a source said. "We will know how much the measures helped within a few months."
Defense officials have been expressing anger at settler leaders over the past few days. "The time has come to decide which side they're on," a source at Central Command said.
The main target of the anger is the head of the Shomron Regional Council, Gershon Mesika, but Danny Dayan, head of the Yesha Council of settlements, has also been criticized. Army sources say they can't understand how the state continues to pay the salaries of certain officials in the settlements, who indirectly channel money to groups calling for soldiers to refuse orders. And yet, it will be very difficult to disconnect the network of interests linking the IDF brass, the settler leaders and the "handful" of extremists, who for some time have not been a handful.
For example, for Hanukkah the settlement heads are invited to a conference at IDF command headquarters in the West Bank. The keynote speaker, Col. Nimrod Aloni, commander of the Shomron Brigade, will lecture on "Jewish heroism in the city of Shechem." In the audience are likely to be extremists, among them a council head seen recently kissing the hand of Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, author of the book "The King's Torah," which calls for the murder of Arabs.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now