The Israeli army is preparing for the Hamas march on the Gaza side of the border fence with Israel this Friday. Thousands of Palestinians of all ages are expected to participate. The army fears hundreds of the protestors may try to reach the border fence and even break through it.
To reduce the risk of an escalation with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the army will deploy special forces to the area near the border to supplement the Border Police officers who will be stationed there. In addition, soldiers currently enrolled in courses as well as combat soldiers from ground forces units will also be brought in.
The preparations include training for a number of possible scenarios, including a case in which hundreds of unarmed Palestinians mange to cross the border fence into Israel, potentially reaching nearby communities. To prevent such an occurrence, the Israel Defense Forces plan to keep Palestinians away from the fence, even if this means civilian casualties.
The military has divided the area near the border into sectors and troops in each sector will be allowed to use different means based on their proximity to the border. For example, troops will use tear gas first, followed by other methods. Live ammunition will only be used as a final recourse. The army also plans on using snipers along with riot control methods that could include spraying rioters with a vile-smelling liquid known as “skunk” and drones that disperse tear gas.
In the IDF’s more serious scenarios, the Palestinians march to the Rafah, Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings. In this case, snipers will have to fire at them to stop them. In the most extreme scenario, photographs of those killed are broadcast, in real-time, all over the world; Hamas fires rockets at southern Israel and cities like Be’er Sheva and Ashkelon; the military responds firmly; the confrontation escalates and is also felt in the West Bank.
In another possible scenario, Palestinians try to attack soldiers using hand grenades or explosive devices, or they manage to isolate and abduct a soldier.
The army may find it difficult to deal with the Palestinian protestors because it has not set up special forces to deal with demonstrations or riots, as opposed to the police, whose riot squads and special forces regularly train for such situations.
As a result, many present and former senior police officers have called on the IDF to deploy riot police and other police units as a second line of defense behind the soldiers. The police units are much better trained at handling rioters and demonstrations, said a former senior police officer, and if dozens are killed, it could lead to a military confrontation with Hamas.
Maj. Gen. (ret.) Benzi Sao, who previously held the post of deputy police commissioner, said the march should not be considered to be a demonstration. “This is an event with characteristics of terrorism. The IDF is right to set the crossing of the [border] fence as a red line. This is not a matter of who handles them in the second line of defense because if they reach such a situation, it’s already bad.”
“We don’t need to fear the event called Land Day,” said Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich on Tuesday, ahead of the Friday protests. During a tour of East Jerusalem, he said Gaza is not the police’s area of expertise, adding that the police follows the lead of the IDF there and receives its intelligence from the army, but is still “prepared for any scenario that could develop.”
“In the end, the security situation is no more severe before the [Passover] holiday than at the beginning of the holiday [on Friday night]. There is no rise in threats or intentions to carry out a terrorist attack before the holiday. Naturally, moving the [U.S.] Embassy [to Jerusalem] creates a discourse, but for now it is not translated into an exceptional level of severity,” said Alsheich.