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Israel’s security chiefs to meet on looming annexation amid fears of violence

IDF, Shin Bet chiefs and top commanders to weigh how to respond to possible Palestinian uprising or Jordan breaking off ties, with a month to go to July 1 target date

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, left, and head of the Southern Command Herzi Halevi, right, in southern Israel on May 26, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, meets with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, left, and head of the Southern Command Herzi Halevi, right, in southern Israel on May 26, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Security chiefs will convene Wednesday for a key discussion to prepare for various scenarios if parts of the West Bank are annexed next month, as currently planned.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi will host Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman and several senior IDF commanders and Shin Bet officials at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv for a first-of-its-kind meeting on the subject, Hebrew-language media reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted he will go ahead with plans to extend Israeli sovereignty to settlements and the Jordan Valley — some 30 percent of the West Bank — from July 1, though there are signs a short delay might be in the offing. That gives the military a month to complete preparations for a move that many defense analysts and officials have warned could lead to an outbreak of Palestinian violence, as well as threaten Jerusalem’s ties with its neighbor Jordan and other Arab countries.

The preparations, given the code name “Shahar Beharim” (Dawn in the mountains) are clouded not only by limited knowledge of what Palestinians might be planning in response to an annexation announcement, but also by lack of information on what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government intends to announce.

The discussion will focus on the different scenarios that may follow an Israeli move to annex, from so-called lone wolf attacks by Palestinians and protests, to mass riots, a full-blown third intifada — or uprising — or even an extreme option of the severance of all ties with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

The security chiefs will also discuss possible ramifications such an escalation could have on other fronts, particularly the Gaza Strip.

Israeli soldiers stand guard near the scene of an apparent attempted car-ramming attack by the West Bank settlement of Halamish on May 29, 2020. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Defense analysts have warned of a potential outbreak of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in response to Israeli annexation efforts.

Ahead of the move, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said his security forces were cutting ties with the Israeli military, a claim that has since proven to be overstated, as some degree of coordination has continued despite the dramatic announcement, though to a lesser extent than normal.

Jordan, with which Israel has its longest border, has threatened to review its relationship with Jerusalem, if the Jewish state goes ahead with the controversial plans.

On Tuesday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned of “fiercer conflict” if annexation moves ahead.

European countries, as well as Arab nations with which Israel does not have formal ties, have also warned Israel against the consequences of annexation.

Israel’s military preparations have been going on for months and have included special training, preparing equipment and weapons, and tightening the military’s coordination with the Shin Bet and the Israel Police.

They also include an examination of what body would be in charge of each area in the event of annexation, which would likely transfer some authority currently held by the Defense Ministry to civilian bodies.

On Monday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered Kohavi to “step up preparations for the Israel Defense Forces,” his office said, after a meeting with US Ambassador David Friedman.

Gantz himself is believed to oppose unilateral annexation, but his coalition deal with Netanyahu allows the latter to push forward with the plan from July 1, so long as he can secure approval from the Knesset — where he is almost guaranteed a majority — and from the United States.

However, the US approval depends on the completion of a mapping process being carried out by a joint Israeli-US team, and a source has told The Times of Israel that it is “highly unlikely” that the process will be done by July 1. The source said it could be delayed by weeks or even months.

Netanyahu initially promised in January that annexation would take place in a matter of days, but has repeatedly been forced to temper expectations.

Though the military had already been preparing for potential unrest in response to the move, until Gantz’s meeting with Kohavi on Monday the IDF was doing so without having much specific information about the government’s intentions, aspects of which still remain undecided.

In his statement, the defense minister did not explicitly refer to annexation, but ordered Kohavi to “step up preparations for the IDF ahead of diplomatic efforts on the agenda in the Palestinian arena.”

A Palestinian rioter hurls a rock during clashes with Israeli security forces following a protest in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on January 29, 2020. (Musa AL SHAER / AFP)

“The defense minister also updated the chief of staff on advancements on the diplomatic front,” a spokesperson said, without elaborating.

Gantz said he also plans to appoint a point-person to coordinate between the different government bodies involved in the process.

“A joint team will be formed that will bring together recommendations — on an operational level — for the efforts that are on the agenda for the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” his office said.

The move would be coordinated with the United States, in accordance with a Middle East plan US President Donald Trump unveiled in January, which endorsed extending Israeli sovereignty over these parts of the West Bank.

While the plan calls for peace talks and envisions a Palestinian state on the rest of the West Bank, the entire proposal has been rejected by the Palestinian Authority, which seeks the West Bank as territory for a future Palestinian state.

The government’s exact plans of when and where it intends to extend sovereignty have yet to be released and are still being discussed by the joint Israeli-US committee that is tasked with mapping the exact territory to be annexed and the status of each piece of land.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, September 10, 2019. Netanyahu vowed to annex the Jordan Valley and, later, all West Bank settlements if he were to win national elections. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Last week, Netanyahu told government ministers that he planned to extend Israeli sovereignty to portions of the West Bank at some point in July.

Ze’ev Elkin, a member of the top-level security cabinet, said an exact date had not yet been set because of the ongoing efforts of the joint mapping committee.

“I know they’re working on the map, and that process could take some more time,” Elkin told Army Radio on Sunday. “July 1 is the first day when the matter can be brought to the cabinet and the Knesset. It could possibly take a few more days or weeks, but generally I think the prime minister is very clear that he intends to advance this.”

Elkin said there were many signs that the mapping would be done by “sometime in July.”

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