The Syrians Are on the Fences

Nakba Day events may be dress rehearsal for what may happen in September in response to a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

Generations of IDF commanders have drilled into the heads of their soldiers the phrase "the Syrians are on the fences." A remnant of the terrible surprise of the Yom Kippur War, it was meant to impress on Israeli forces the need to be on constant alert and fully prepared for any unexpected occurrence.

But those who caught the IDF by surprise yesterday were not the Syrians they were expecting, but rather Palestinian demonstrators living in refugee camps in Syria. The army admitted yesterday that better advanced intelligence and improved preparedness at Northern Command could have prevented the breach of the fence near Majdal Shams.

The IDF may have been caught off guard because it was focusing its energies in the Central Command. There, in great part thanks to continued cooperation with Palestinian security forces, the results were not that bad. The Palestinian police prevented many incidents from escalating into something bigger.

The march toward the border was a different story. It's a scenario that has been discussed since 2000, following the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the outbreak of the second intifada. But in the absence of coordination with the forces on the other side, Israel was less capable of controlling the situation because its soldiers were forced to confront the threat right on the fence.

The good thing was that in general, the soldiers showed restraint. More widespread killings would have exacerbated the situation. The situation on the Lebanese border was different, because there, according to an initial IDF investigation, the demonstrators hit by live fire were hit by the Lebanese army.

Clearly, the incidents that took place yesterday were not spontaneous. Hamas, Hezbollah and more than both, the Syrian regime, have a clear interest in focusing international attention at this time on Israel's killing of Arab civilians. Yesterday, Syria managed to maneuver Israel into the same corner it has been trying to avoid. It will be interesting to see whether the foreign media take note that the number killed yesterday by the IDF was not greater than those killed in a typical day by Assad's forces over the past few weeks.

More than anything else, yesterday's events were a dress rehearsal for what may happen in September. This is what things could look like if a major crisis erupts in response to a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence. It will have the effect of a tenfold Turkish aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip: many demonstrations and marches in many different places all at once, posing great challenged to soldiers in the field. The IDF has less than four months to prepare. The Nakba Day events of yesterday appeared to be a virtual rerun of the Nakba Day events in 2000 that preceded the outbreak of the second intifada, indicating that the army still has its work cut out for it.

About 15 people were killed yesterday and dozens were injured during the confrontations with the IDF on various fronts - the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the border with Lebanon and on the Golan Heights. IDF forces were caught by surprise in particular by the breach of the fence along the border with Syria near the village of Majdal Shams.

The resistance measures used by Palestinian protests yesterday were significantly different from those used in the Nakba in 2000. As early as May 2000, the use of firearms by militants targeting IDF troops had become commonplace. Yesterday, the demonstrators in the Golan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza avoided using firearms. Various Palestinian leaders have noted that even if a third intifada breaks out, efforts will be made to portray as a "popular struggle," which will include stone-throwing but no shootings or bombings.

The IDF admitted yesterday that it was not prepared for popular marches of demonstrators on the northern border or the Golan. A scenario of thousands trying to breach the border had not been considered, and the soldiers did not have at their disposal non-lethal means of containing the civilians.