Army Chief Is Preparing IDF for Violence in West Bank Over July Annexation

In a recent briefing to senior IDF officers, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said he was issuing an alert to army commanders regarding a possible escalation in the occupied territories ahead of July. The alert was issued due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex some settlements in the West Bank. At a meeting of the Likud Knesset faction on Monday, Netanyahu said he intends to apply Israeli law to settlements and the Jordan Valley as early as July 1. “We have a target date and we won’t change it,” declared the prime minister.

The IDF explained that it was usual for the chief of staff to instruct the army to be prepared, given that escalation is a likely scenario. Kochavi’s words related mainly to the West Bank, less so to the Gaza Strip. So far, the army has not sent reinforcements to the West Bank, despite a rise in the number of attempted attacks in the last two weeks. Towards July, the army is preparing to implement a plan to deal with a possible outbreak of violence. This plan includes a significant reinforcement of forces in the West Bank. Kochavi held another meeting on Monday, in which various possible scenarios were discussed.

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Last September, when Netanyahu considered a unilateral annexation of the Jordan Valley, Kochavi and Shin Bet security agency chief Nadav Argaman warned him of the possible consequences, foremost of which is the possible damage to the peace treaty with Jordan. Given further opposition by other agencies, Netanyahu retracted his proposal, just before the second of three election cycles.

The Palestinian Authority recently announced the cessation of its security coordination with Israel, in protest against these annexation plans. The PA has taken similar publicized steps in the past during disputes with Israel, such as the one over placing metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount in 2017, or another one last year over the PA’s financial assistance to security prisoners incarcerated in Israel.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi at a ceremony marking the change of leadership at Israel’s Home Front Command, May 19, 2020.IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Defense establishment sources in Israel say that in contrast to previous periods of tension, the break between the PA security apparatus and its Israeli counterparts is more significant this time. They say that Palestinian security officers will still deal with information concerning imminent attacks, but that cooperation in other areas, such as sharing intelligence gained in interrogating suspects, has been halted.

The IDF has cut down its operations involving the arrest of suspects in West Bank cities for two reasons. One is related to problems of coordination with the PA, the other to a wish to avoid confrontations during Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the month of Ramadan, which ended earlier this week. In one case, the IDF aborted its entry into Area A in the Qalqilya region out of concerns about clashing with PA forces.

Arik Barbing, who was the head of the Jerusalem and West Bank sector at the Shin Bet, told Haaretz that the PA recently evacuated its policemen from West Bank areas where there is a potential for clashes between the IDF and demonstrators. He says “this is notable in Hebron, among other areas. The Palestinian population perceives this as legitimization by the Authority to confront the IDF.”