Residents of the southern Arava desert have formed a volunteer patrol to counter what they say is a 200-kilometer stretch of the Israeli-Jordanian border that is insufficiently defended and thus vulnerable to terrorist infiltration.
“I’m worried we’re going to wake up only after an attack, and I’d be happier if the state paid attention to what’s happening here before anyone dies,” local farmer Yoram Riati, a former paratrooper and Shin Bet officer who organized the new unit, told Channel 10 television.
The unit is named “Lotar Arava.” Lotar is the military’s acronym for “counterterrorism.”
“You have people here [in the unit] from [elite IDF units] Shaldag, Sayeret Matkal, Flotilla 13, the Paratroopers and Golani reconnaissance units,” one volunteer said.
The Arava desert is inhabited by a string of small farming villages, many of them kibbutzim, such as Yotvata, Yahel and Ketura. It borders Jordan in one of the last stretches of border on which Israel has not yet erected a fence or deployed the usual arsenal of sensors and other border protection methods.
“We have no [terrorist] tunnels here,” noted Eyal Blum, head of the Arava Regional Council, “simply because you can enter without needing one.”
The Channel 10 report, broadcast Saturday night, noted residents’ concerns that in the wake of the Arab Spring, and with large numbers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad sympathizers living among neighboring Jordan’s Palestinian population, the danger from the open border is real and immediate.
IDF officers responsible for defending the border denied it is unguarded. “The IDF’s defense package in the Arava is sufficient to meet the present threats,” an IDF source said, noting that the IDF easily caught seven Turks attempting to infiltrate the border near Yotvata as recently as March.
According to the report, the IDF is nevertheless considering erecting a more robust defensive perimeter at the border, including a fence.