IDF soldiers
IDF soldiers at a graduation ceremony after completing an officers’ course. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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The Israel Defense Forces is readying for possible engagement with the Syrian military in September, should the latter involve itself in new attempts by Palestinians in Syria to storm the border with the Golan Heights in connection with a UN vote on recognizing a Palestinian state.

The IDF acknowledges it may be necessary to deal with Syrian military intervention in such a scenario, which could occur if Syria tried to deflect world attention from the ongoing demonstrations in that country - and their bloody suppression - by creating an incident on the border.

If such a mass infiltration results in the IDF having to shoot at the protesters, the Syrian army may send units to "defend Syrian citizens."

Thus, for the first time since the Yom Kippur War, there could be a military confrontation, with the IDF being compelled to send forces to confront Syrian battalions.

Until now, the IDF assessment had been that Syrian President Bashar Assad was interested in maintaining quiet along the border.

But Assad's domestic troubles, coupled with evidence that he had previously - in May and in June - encouraged hundreds of Palestinians to storm the border, has changed that assessment.

The IDF will not use tanks in the West Bank even if there is an escalation of violence and a resumption of terror attacks, a senior Armored Corps officer said.

The army's assessment, he said, is that unlike during the second intifada, when tanks were used extensively in the territories, particularly during Operation Defensive Shield, "Now there are no large terror cells in the field or weapons that require tanks to deal with them."

Bringing tanks into the West Bank is likely to cause a higher number of casualties than necessary, at a time when the IDF will be trying to contain the violence, he said.

To prepare for what may occur in September, the army has also added to its officers' course at Training Base 1 a module on dealing with mass civilian disturbances. A full three days of the intensive six-month course is being devoted to the subject.

The module consists of one day learning how to use the various IDF riot dispersal measures, and a two-day workshop of psychological preparation for dilemmas that may arise in the field.

A senior commander at Training Base 1 said the mental preparation was needed, "because the cadets learn primarily how to fight an armed enemy, and dealing with civilians requires different measures."

During September, the IDF plans to post senior officers and battalion and brigade commanders at possible confrontation zones in the West Bank, and along the borders with Gaza, Syria and Lebanon.

Still, military officials believe young officers may find themselves and their soldiers facing complex situations alone, which is why this module was added to their training.