Defense establishment officials who have attended closed security forums say the political leadership is not giving them important information, or a timeline, to enable them to ready security forces for the expected consequences of an annexation in the Jordan Valley or elsewhere in the West Bank.
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Defense officials believe most of the discussions being held now are focusing mainly on whether annexation should take place and how, but there are no details of how the final annexation will look on the ground. Defense officials argue that this information is already necessary to figure out how to ready the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet security service, police and other security elements for annexation; what’s more, they believe it’s necessary to act now because Palestinians are already responding to talks of annexation.
The IDF understands the sensitivity of the issue and is refraining from making any statements that could be interpreted as taking a position, but in private conversations senior officers believe that in the map of threats to Israel for which the army is meant to prepare, the focus should be on the north, and that an escalation in the West Bank would undermine preparations to counter those threats, and would divert significant funds from those plans to deal with violence in the territories.
The security establishment is also concerned about the consequences that annexation could have on relations with Jordan, Egypt and Qatar, as well as other countries in the Middle East that in recent years have helped restrain and prevent escalations of violence. In all the confrontations between Hamas and Israel since March 2018, Egyptian and Qatari mediation helped stop the fighting after a day or two. Such mediation could be substantially undermined, security sources say.
Meanwhile the IDF has started to prepare for the consequences of annexation based on plans that were written during previous preparations for increased violence, like the possibility of unilateral declarations by the Palestinian Authority and the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
The army is also preparing to carry out surprise reserve call-ups using recently acquired systems. These will involve calling up reserve soldiers who will be asked to come to staging areas and check the forces’ equipment. In the Judea and Samaria Division and other divisions preparing to come to the West Bank in the event of an escalation, the soldiers’ readiness will be tested.
These exercises are aimed primarily at checking the ability of the forces to go from routine to an emergency footing in a short time, and could also serve as a response in other areas that could ignite following developments in the West Bank, such as the south. The Israeli intelligence assessment is that if an annexation takes place, Hamas will not be able to sit on the sidelines and will have to involve itself in some fashion. The assessment is that Hamas will once again begin agitating at the Gazan border fence and could also launch more serious confrontations.
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The security establishment hasn’t identified any desire on Hamas’ part for a military confrontation with Israel. Security sources say the explosive and incendiary balloons that have been launched in recent days from Gaza, along with a number of attempts to fire rockets at the sea, were meant to signal to Israel that it won’t allow a retreat from the arrangement aimed at improving the economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Hamas has been getting the impression that under cover of the coronavirus crisis, Israel has been avoiding making progress in these arrangements. Both laborers and the seriously ill have been banned from entering Israel because of the coronavirus, but Hamas is also demanding that residents who leave for Israel or Egypt go into quarantine for 14 days upon returning, so some people aren’t even interested in asking for an exit permit.
At the same time, both Hamas and Israel understand that the possible exchange of prisoners and MIAs that was bandied about during the election campaign is no longer on the table, and there have been no talks between the sides – even via intermediaries – for weeks. Israel believes Hamas realizes that it isn’t in crisis due to the coronavirus and that the pandemic is pretty much under control in Gaza, with low numbers of cases. This makes an exchange deal that includes medical equipment irrelevant.