Israeli soldiers stand guard as Palestinians protest in the West Bank
Israeli soldiers stand guard as Palestinians protest in the West Bank on May 9, 2010. Photo by AP
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The Central Command and the Judea and Samaria Division of the Israel Defense Forces have been closely monitoring the recent events in Arab states and updating their operational plans for dealing with a potential popular, nonviolent uprising.

Nearly a year ago the Judea and Samaria Division drew up a comprehensive program to combat large demonstrations in the West Bank, which is currently being adjusted in light of the popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

Senior officers now serving, or who once served, in the West Bank say they have long felt there is no way to effectively contend with a widespread, nonviolent civil uprising. "There is nothing for it if something like what happened in Tunisia happens here," said one high-ranking officer serving in the division. The probability of a completely nonviolent uprising, however, is thought to be low.

"It's hard to believe there wouldn't be organizations that wouldn't hitch a ride and try to attack the IDF, thus the situation would not be similar to Egypt," another officer said. A third, who has long been serving in the West Bank, said recently, "At the moment, we are not observing that level of friction; the population here is still tired from the second intifada."

Scenarios like the one taking place in Northern Africa and the Arab Peninsula have also taken a more prominent place in Key Intelligence Topics, the list of priorities for gathering intelligence.

"In the past year, even before the events in Egypt and Tunisia, we connected the dots and decided what was needed in the division, down to the level of inventory of crowd-dispersal means and the preparation of infrastructure to prevent such events from taking place," one of the officers said. "The recent events in the Middle East made a big difference for us; it's not just in the background. It's obvious there's a domino effect, and that we could certainly be facing such situations."

Among the lessons being learned now in the IDF is the need to make preparations based not only on regular intelligence that is gathered about the plans and the intentions of the Palestinian organizations, but also on what is taking place within the various groups making up Palestinian society, and in particular the messages being sent over the Internet, through social networking sites such as Facebook.

Military officials emphasize that they will make no effort to prevent large demonstrations, even of thousands of Palestinian civilians, as long as they do not try to enter Jewish settlements.

The IDF considers any attempt to damage a checkpoint or a security fence as a violent act, and will use force and such means as teargas and rubber-tipped bullets against all such actions.

"Such an event will be violent. In this kind of situation we will behave as an army, with very strict levels of restraint, including taking significant risks, to obviate such a situation," an officer in the Judea and Samaria Division said.

Important component

In the past two years, the security coordination between the IDF and the security agencies of the Palestinian Authority have become an important component in defense strategy throughout the West Bank.

That said, the IDF recognizes that in the event of a popular uprising, it will not be able to count on the PA forces, and is searching for other channels within the local civilian leadership.

In addition to updating its plans, the Judea and Samaria Division is also making preparations to change the ways that the officers and the commanders perceive the situations around them, with the aim of enabling them to act judiciously when faced with thousands of nonviolent protesters.

To that end, brigade commanders are taking part in discussions of operational plans, while platoon and battalion commanders involved in operational missions in the West Bank are participating in workshops and briefing sessions.