IDF chief warns anti-annexation unrest in West Bank could spill over to Gaza

Aviv Kohavi tells troops they could soon be facing ‘riots and terror,’ but does not mention annexation plan by name

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi observes a military exercise in northern Israel on June 23, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi observes a military exercise in northern Israel on June 23, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kovahi warned Wednesday Israel could soon face violent unrest in the West Bank, which could easily spread to Gaza, as the army preps for possible violence in response to the government’s plans to begin annexing lands claimed by the Palestinians.

Speaking at a military exercise in the north, Kohavi did not mention the controversial plan by name, but told soldiers they may soon need to shift their attention toward the West Bank should predictions of fighting in reaction to the move prove true.

“You can find yourself in a few weeks in the Judea and Samaria area because of riots and terror,” he was quoted saying in an IDF statement, using the biblical names of the West Bank.

“The upcoming events can develop into fighting in Gaza,” he added, predicting that months of calm with the normally tense enclave could return to intense fighting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to begin annexing parts of the West Bank next month, a move stridently opposed by the Palestinians and much of the international community.

Israeli troops clash with Palestinians during a protest against Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank, in the village of Kafr Qaddum, on June 19, 2020. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

Kohavi has refrained from commenting on the potential annexation of West Bank territories slated for Israel under the Trump administration’s peace plan, which Netanyahu can begin advancing on July 1 as part of his agreement with Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

The military has been preparing for a range of scenarios in response to annexation, but has been largely left out of the loop concerning Netanyahu’s plans, making it difficult to fully plan accordingly.

In a briefing Tuesday with reporters, Gantz said he’s reviewed potential annexation responses with the army and that the IDF is taking into account the possible consequences of the move.

“There is a security challenge in the Judea and Samaria area, and it may be a greater challenge as a result of applying the law — if and when that happens,” Gantz said.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas heads a leadership meeting at his headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 19, 2020. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)

The Palestinians have denounced Netanyahu’s annexation plans, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declaring last month his West Bank-based PA was no longer bound by its agreements with Israel, including on security cooperation.

Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules Gaza, has called for annexation to be met with “resistance.”

The prospect of unilateral annexation has been condemned internationally, with European and Arab states, as well as senior members of the US Democratic Party, warning the Israeli government against doing so.

Though the White House has signaled it won’t oppose annexation, Trump administration officials have signaled ambivalence about the timing of such a move and are expected to meet this week to make a final decision on whether to back Netanyahu’s plans.

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