Four months into the current wave of Palestinian terror, the Israel Defense Forces is changing its operational deployment in the West Bank and returning to positions it had abandoned in previous years.
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Over the past few weeks, the Central Command and the IDF’s construction unit have been getting various positions ready for the soldiers’ return.
A permanent garrison has already returned to the Shdema outpost, near the Palestinian town of Beit Sahur in the Bethlehem region. During the second intifada, Shdema served as a lookout post, but in 2006 the IDF decided it was no longer needed and abandoned it. At that point, a dispute erupted over what would become of the compound: Beit Sahur wanted to turn it into a hospital, while the Women in Green organization sought to turn it into a new Jewish settlement.
The argument became moot in 2010, when the IDF redeployed in Shdema. The position was later abandoned a second time, and about three years ago the IDF allowed settlers to renovate the abandoned base and hold events there.
Now, the IDF is moving back to Shdema. Over the past few weeks, it has expanded the compound outpost and built a fence around it, and recently a company of reservists moved in — one of several companies called up at the beginning of the month to bolster the army’s forces in the West Bank.
The IDF is also setting up several new pillbox positions in the West Bank. Israeli officials recently notified their counterparts in the Palestinian Authority that the army intended to set up additional guard posts in the northern West Bank, primarily in the Nablus region. The IDF confirmed that it plans to build several new pillboxes, including one near the place where Eitam and Naama Henkin were murdered in October, not far from the settlement of Itamar.
Meanwhile, the army is also continuing its policy, begun two months ago, of putting military checkpoints at the entrances and exits of Palestinian towns from which large numbers of assailants have come. Some of the access roads to Seir, for instance, have been blocked, forcing traffic to go through the military checkpoint erected at one of the town’s entrances.
The IDF said it decided to expand and repopulate outposts that had previously been abandoned because it needs a place to put the extra manpower it is deploying to the West Bank. In response to the upsurge in terror of the past few months, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot decided to put an extra four battalions on operational duty in the West Bank this year, including two battalions of reservists.
“The new military deployment in the area southeast of Bethlehem coincides with accelerated construction and consolidation that, over the next few years, is liable to increase the number of settlers by twofold or more in several settlements in the area,” says Dror Etkes, who monitors the settlements for Peace Now and other organizations. “This is the context in which the army is now deploying in the area, and it once again reveals what anyone with eyes in his head has understood for years, which is that the supreme mission the army carries out on an ongoing basis is defending the excess privileges of West Bank settlers.”