The Israel Defense Forces deployed large numbers of soldiers on Wednesday in the West Bank, along the seam line and the border with the Gaza Strip – as part of its preparations for a violent escalation with the Palestinians. In an exceptional step, companies of soldiers will reinforce the police’s operations beyond the Green Line.
A wave of attempted terrorist attacks is now expected, in efforts to copy the three recent murderous terrorist attacks inside Israel, according to various intelligence assessments presented to the senior defense leadership.
On early Wednesday morning, IDF soldiers entered the town of Ya’bad near Jenin in the northern West Bank, home of Diaa Hamarsheh, the terrorist who murdered four civilians and a police officer in Bnei Brak on Tuesday night. Soldiers from the Golani Brigade arrested a few of Hamarsheh’s relatives and friends, including his brother, on suspicion that they were aware of his intentions to commit the attack or aided him.
Over the past few days, a number of Arab citizens of Israel were arrested in Umm al-Fahm and other areas over suspected links to the terrorists who carried out the attack in Hadera on Sunday, in which two Border Police officers were killed. The two assailants, both Israeli Arabs, had been supporters of Islamic State.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi approved a broad list of actions on Wednesday in response to the latest wave of terror attacks. The IDF sent 14 battalions to the territories and the Seam Line area – six to the West Bank, six to the Seam Line and two more to the region near the Gaza Strip. In addition, about 1,000 soldiers who are in training for the special forces – divided up into 15 companies – will be deployed in cities inside the Green Line to aid the police. Kochavi also ordered combat soldiers who have finished their basic training to take their weapons home with them when on leave.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Wednesday in a press conference in the headquarters of the IDF’s Central Command in Jerusalem that Israel will “break the wave of terror.” Security forces are also “taking defensive and offensive steps to prevent the next terrorist attacks, as much as is possible.
“If there is a need, we will immediately call up thousands of reserve soldiers, who will flood the streets along with the police in every place operational action is needed. All means are proper to break this wave,” he said.
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Gantz spoke after a situational assessment meeting with senior defense officials. Defense leaders say that while an escalation is expected, and it could even continue for a few months in the most extreme scenario – it is still not an existential threat to Israel and can be dealt with using methods that have been employed in similar situations in the past.
The aid the army will provide to the police is meant to reinforce its activities on the home front and to increase Israeli civilians’ sense of security, which has been undermined over the past week. The idea is to position small groups of soldiers in the cities to make their presence felt and, if necessary, deal with attempted terrorist attacks.
At this stage, defense officials are not recommending imposing closures in the territories, with the month of Ramadan starting at the end of this week. The intention is still to differentiate between the situation in Jerusalem and the Arab communities inside the Green Line, on the one hand, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, on the other. The fear is that prematurely imposing harsh restrictions that would curtail freedom of worship may only accelerate violence from Palestinians. But defense officials are taking into account the possibility that such restrictions may have to be imposed later on.
Defense officials are also worried about possible violence on the Israeli side. Since the beginning of the week, there have been reports of dozens of incidents of damage to Arab property in Israel and the West Bank by right-wing extremists. Lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir (Religious Zionism) requested to go up to the Temple Mount on Thursday, a move that could drastically stir tensions as it has in the past.
Meanwhile, the annual ceremony marking Land Day – which marks the loss of Arab lands in the Galilee – was held on Wednesday in the Gaza Strip, organized by Hamas, and passed quietly. Thousands of participants gathered along the coast of Gaza City, but did not confront IDF soldiers near the border fence.