The Israel Defense Forces is taking a series of measures to prevent an escalation of violence in the West Bank, including holding large-scale surprise drills and easing entry restrictions on Palestinians, as some officials warn the dead-end in peace talks could lead to new fighting.
An unnamed military source indicated that an explosive confrontation in the region — taking into account the election results — was possible, but stressed that the army and the Palestinian Authority were engaged in various preemptive measures to stymie the eruption of a Third Intifada, the army weekly Bamahane reported.
“As of today, the Palestinian front has, without a doubt, the highest potential of explosiveness,” the source said. “There is the expectation things will change for the Palestinians after the elections. The result of the election can raise harsh responses on both sides of the political map, in both directions.”
In light of the threat of an escalation, the army is avoiding clashes with Palestinian protesters and unnecessary casualties, easing traffic restrictions for West Bank drivers, removing certain roadblocks, and granting more entry permits to Palestinians into Israel, “in order not to lose the hold on the area,” the military representative said.
The army also received approval to give another 10,000 entry permits into Israel for Palestinian laborers.
The IDF and the PA continue to cooperate in carrying out raids against Hamas terror cells, something that happens on “a daily basis,” the officer said. The PA has threatened repeatedly to cut off security cooperation with Israel, but has yet to do so.
The army carried out a massive training exercise several weeks ago in the West Bank, which, according to the army weekly, was the largest in a decade, in a possible sign of worries over increased tensions.
The military officer said the surprise drill was “successful” and that it “tested the preparedness of the IDF for a serious escalation, a situation that — based on assessments — seems very relevant.”
Other Hebrew media reports published on Monday indicated that it was the tax freeze imposed on the Palestinian Authority — as opposed to last week’s election, which cemented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hold on power — that was the destabilizing factor in the West Bank.
Haaretz reported that the IDF is carrying out various training exercises to tackle a possible uprising, but noted the army does not necessarily anticipate an escalation in the near future.
The report said the PA is still working with Israel to foil any terror cells — whether Hamas or, more recently, Fatah’s long-dormant Tanzim wing.
Israel froze tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority last year as a punitive measure after Ramallah pushed ahead with a series of steps for international recognition.
Officials in the PA have said the freeze has created a massive budget shortfall. Since the tax freeze, PA workers have only received some 60 percent of their monthly salaries, according to the Ynet news website.
Worries of a Third Intifada reached an apex in late 2014, as tensions over the Temple Mount boiled over into a series of Palestinian attacks and an Israeli crackdown in Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.
The tensions died down however, giving way to several months of shaky calm.
Also Monday, a report by Ynet indicated the army had reshuffled its specialized chemical warfare unit into the Home Front Command, amid reduced fears of unconventional warfare.
The decision was made based on the assessment that the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile has been destroyed, thereby lowering the threat of an attack on Israel with unconventional weapons.