Armed male and female soldiers from the mixed-gender Bardelas battalion have been assigned to greet school children in the Arava region in the south on their first day of school Friday in an effort by their commanders to strengthen the troops' ties with the community.
Initially the soldiers were told that they would join the children on school buses and provide a security detail at their schools, but after Haaretz inquired, it was made clear that the soldiers would not ride the buses but instead would be present in "central locations" in the Central Arava region, which runs between the Dead Sea and Eilat along the Jordanian border and is considered a highly peaceful and quiet area from a security standpoint. Last year, it was decided to merge the Arava brigade with the Eilat regional brigade as a result of the peaceful situation prevailing there.
The soldiers have been assigned to stand with their weapons at the entrance to the schools in the sparsely-populated region. Some of the troops questioned the assignment, which they said was unusual. Others wondered why they, members of an Israeli army combat force stationed on the border, would be assigned to the task.
Israel Defense Force officials made it clear that initiative came from the battalion itself in an effort to reach out to the members of the community in the Arava region. The Bardelas battalion is responsible for security in the border area and is stationed in the area on a regular basis.
The major focus of members of the battalion at the moment is monitoring attempts by foreign migrant workers to cross into Israel in the area. Over the past year, a relatively large group of migrants, mostly from Turkey, was caught crossing the border.
In addition, about half a year ago, the battalion conducted an exercise simulating the infiltration of terrorists into an area of greenhouses at the Arava moshav cooperative community of Ein Yahav. The exercise was an effort to test the readiness of the troops to respond in times of emergency.
The Israel Defense Force Spokesman's Office issued the following response for this report: "The Bardelas battalion is responsible for ongoing security operations in the Arava sector. As part of the battalion's ongoing cooperation with [the Central Arava Regional Council], the battalion's soldiers initiated volunteer activity with school children on the first day of school. The aim of the activity is to strengthen the ties and the sense of security between the area's residents and the forces operating in the sector."