As it beefs up West Bank barrier, IDF to call up reservists to relieve combat troops

Six reserve battalions to be deployed to ‘seam zone’ area within weeks, as army carries out engineering work to seal up gaps used by illegal workers, terrorists

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

IDF soldiers are seen operating along the West Bank barrier, in an image published by the military on April 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF soldiers are seen operating along the West Bank barrier, in an image published by the military on April 2, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces will call up hundreds of reserve soldiers to relieve active-duty combat troops deployed to strengthen defenses along the West Bank security barrier, the military announced Thursday.

The move, as well as engineering work to seal gaps in the fence, follows several deadly terror attacks in Israel, including two in which terrorists from the northern West Bank entered Israel via large holes in the barrier.

“The [reservist] call-up will enable the continued campaign to prevent assailants and illegal workers from passing through the seam zone,” the IDF said, referring to a swath of West Bank land on the Israeli side of the barrier where thousands of troops have been deployed in recent weeks.

The exceptional mustering of six reserve battalions will only begin in some three weeks.

According to the military, the call-ups, which will stretch over “several rounds,” will be done in a way “that will enable the optimal deployment of the forces in the Central Command, and maintenance of operational competence and routine training in the IDF.”

Earlier this month, the army said it was fixing holes over dozens of kilometers of the fence and digging trenches to prevent vehicles from crossing through the so-called “seam zone” area. Though some of the barrier is a concrete wall, much of it is just fencing.

Security forces work to repair holes in the West Bank security barrier on April 13, 2022. (Defense Ministry)

In recent years thousands of Palestinian laborers have been entering Israel every day through the gaps in the fence, but the IDF has vowed to clamp down after several terror attacks were committed by Palestinians who used the gaps to reach Israeli cities, including one who crossed the border with a vehicle.

Along with the engineering work, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said his office was working on plans to allow tens of thousands more Palestinian workers into Israel legally.

Earlier this month, the cabinet also approved NIS 300 million ($93 million) in funding to upgrade a 40-kilometer stretch of the barrier in the northern West Bank. This was separate from the army’s efforts.

Tensions have risen sharply between Israel and the Palestinians in recent weeks against the backdrop of repeated terror attacks in Israeli cities that left 14 dead.

The escalation has come amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — often a period of high tension in Israel and the West Bank.

The army has stepped up its West Bank activities in an attempt to crack down on the spiraling violence. The ensuing raids sparked clashes that left at least 25 Palestinians dead, many of whom took part in the clashes, while others appeared to have been uninvolved civilians.

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