After a week of peaking tensions in the Golan Heights, Israel’s defense establishment is bracing for a week of violent confrontations along the border fence with the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.
With the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday followed by Nakba Day and the beginning of Ramadan on Tuesday, the IDF is gearing up for several days of violence in its most explosive arenas.
Thousands of soldiers from 11 battalions, including from the Nahal and Givati brigades, as well as special forces and intelligence-gathering units, the Armored Corps, snipers and drones will reinforce the troops already deployed.
As part of preparations, the training of regular combat troops has also been paused in order to focus efforts to dealing with the possible disturbances.
Gazans have been protesting along the border with Israel for the past six weeks as part of what organizers have called the Great March of Return, with demonstrators throwing stones, Molotov cocktails and rocks, as well as launching incendiary kites, toward Israeli troops.
But this week’s mass protests are expected to be much more aggressive.
Israel is accusing Hamas of using the protests as cover to carry out terror attacks and says it has identified intentions by protesters to destroy engineering equipment belonging to the army, damage security infrastructure on the fence and attempt to kidnap soldiers.
The IDF is expecting tens of thousands of protesters at some 20 sites along the Gaza border fence. The Southern Command is preparing for masses of protesters, including armed activists and children, to attempt to breach the fence.
The army has warned that if security infrastructure is damaged, the IDF will strike infrastructure inside the Gaza Strip, warning that “Hamas is responsible for everything that is happening in and out of the Gaza Strip, and in light of this, it bears overall responsibility for all events and their consequences.”
According to the IDF, Hamas operatives have been identified dismantling observation posts they built along the border, a move the army says “proves” that Hamas is seeking to intensify the violence.
“Hamas’s control over the events is evident in its overt incitement to violence [and] calls to breach the fence, in it’s logistical organization, and control over what happens to observation positions near the perimeter fence,” the army said, adding that “the IDF has repeatedly warned Gazans not to approach the fence to serve as a tool for Hamas.”
While the West Bank has remained relatively calm over the past weeks, an extra brigade has been sent to boost the troops that are already deployed and have increased their readiness levels.
The army is preparing for potential lone-wolf terrorists carrying out stabbing or shooting attacks, as well as vehicular attacks. Two car-ramming attempts on Friday in the West Bank injured one soldier. An attack inside a Jewish community is also seen as a possibility and thus is being anticipated.
In March, Maj.-Gen. Herzl Halevi, head of the IDF’s Intelligence Directorate, warned at a conference organized by Yediot Aharonot that the convergence of events in the month of May “signal that a possible explosion is coming, [driven on the Palestinian side by] growing frustration and hopelessness.”
As of Saturday, Gaza health officials reported that 48 Palestinian protesters had been killed by Israeli forces, with more than 9,500 injured.
While the army has stated that it is not looking for an escalation of violence and has briefed troops on the rules of engagement, soldiers have been given the green light to fire at the lower extremities of the main instigators of riots, and at those posing a threat or imminent danger to troops or security infrastructure.
On Friday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh took part in the protests, arriving at the northern part of Gaza border to encourage the rioters.
“We’re expecting the great march on the 14th and 15th of this month – the entire Palestinian people will be out on the streets of Palestine,” he said. “Our people will flock from the refugee camps in Lebanon to the northern border of Palestine, and our people in Jordan will also flock to the outskirts of Palestine.
We’ll turn the nakba [catastrophe] that ended Palestine to a nakba that ends the Zionist enterprise.”