Security chiefs said split on whether annexation will cause Palestinian violence

TV report says IDF chief warned ministers the move could lead to unrest in the West Bank and Gaza, and terror wave, while Mossad chief downplayed concerns

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi address the media at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on November 12, 2019. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi address the media at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on November 12, 2019. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Security chiefs are reportedly deeply divided on the possible ramifications of Israel annexing parts of the West Bank, with the chiefs of the military and Mossad at odds on whether the move will be met with significant Palestinian violence or not.

According to a Channel 12 news report Thursday, the heads of the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet and Mossad took part in a meeting of the high-level security cabinet Wednesday, during which ministers discussed annexation and the potential consequences of extending sovereignty over West Bank lands.

Quoting unnamed ministers present at the meeting, the network said IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and Military Intelligence commander Tamir Hayman warned annexation could spark violent unrest in the West Bank, including shooting attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers.

They also reportedly warned there could be a return of suicide bombings — as there were during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s — and said the move could lead to fighting in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen on the other hand was dismissive of the IDF forecasts, the report said.

“I don’t accept the claim that annexation will necessary lead to violent responses,” he was quoted as saying in the meeting.

Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman attends a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on November 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to the report, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman took the middle ground, saying that while there would be a response to annexation, economic conditions were good enough in the West Bank that he didn’t believe there was a Palestinian interest in “breaking the rules of the game.”

Two ministers told Channel 12 they had not seen such a sharp disagreement between the security services for some time.

“There seems to be no homogeneity in thinking, intelligence or insights,” they reportedly said.

The Shin Bet, Mossad and IDF all refused to comment on what was discussed during the meeting.

Following the report, unnamed security officials dismissed Cohen’s analysis, noting to the network the Mossad deals with overseas intelligence.

“In security deliberations in recent weeks, the Mossad focused on scenarios applying sovereignty would have on relations with Arab states. His assessment on the Palestinian field is irrelevant,” they reportedly said.

Mossad head Yossi Cohen attends a handover ceremony for the position of chief of military intelligence at the Glilot military base, near Tel Aviv, on March 28, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

While neither Cohen nor Argaman have publicly commented on annexation, Kohavi warned Wednesday Israel could see an outbreak of violence in the West Bank that could easily spread to Gaza.

Without mentioning the controversial plan by name, Kohavi told soldiers during a military exercise in the north 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 as early as July 1, a move stridently opposed by the Palestinians and much of the international community.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II reviews an honor guard before giving a speech to Parliament in Amman, Jordan, on November 10, 2019. (Raad Adayleh/AP)

One of the fiercest critics of the plan has been neighboring Jordan, which along with Egypt is the only Arab state to have a peace deal with Israel.

Jordan has threatened to abrogate or downgrade its 1994 peace treaty with Israel if the annexation goes ahead and King Abdullah II is said to be so infuriated at Israel’s intentions that he has stopped accepting calls from Netanyahu.

On Thursday, Hebrew media quoted an Israeli official saying Cohen recently delivered an unspecified message from Netanyahu to Abdullah during a visit to Jordan.

The two discussed Israel’s planned annexation of the Jordan Valley, a strategic area that runs along the border of the two countries. Cohen returned with a message from Abdullah for Netanyahu, the official said.

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