With rise in West Bank violence, military fears Ben Gvir’s changes to Border Police

IDF would need to call up dozens more reservist units to make up for losses if new national security minister moves part of gendarmerie to southern Israel

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

Border Police officers in riot gear clash with Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron, October 12, 2022. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Border Police officers in riot gear clash with Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron, October 12, 2022. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces on Thursday said there had been a sharp rise in violence in the West Bank over the past year and warned that a plan to remove Border Police forces from the area would potentially harm the military’s operations and training schedule.

Incoming national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir has been reported by Hebrew-language media to be planning to pull a Border Police division out of the West Bank, and place its 16 companies in southern Israel to tackle crime instead.

According to a coalition deal signed between Ben Gvir’s extreme-right Otzma Yehudit party and Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, Border Police would be sliced off entirely from the Israel Police, and the gendarmerie force would be placed under the direct control of the new National Security Ministry.

Amid a major operation in the West Bank over the past year, the IDF has drafted dozens of reservist battalions to conduct arrest raids, guard the security barrier, and ensure that conscript troops also have enough time to train.

The military believes Ben Gvir’s planned move of forces to the south of the country would significantly harm its operations in the West Bank, and require it to summon dozens more reservist units to make up for the loss of forces that routinely conduct security operations in the area alongside the army.

Additionally, IDF reservist forces would need to be trained to conduct law enforcement operations, if Border Police forces are indeed moved out of the West Bank.

Israeli troops operate in the West Bank, early December 20, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF meanwhile reported hundreds of shooting attacks and thousands of incidents of stone- and firebomb-throwing over the past year. The data was published as part of an annual review of the military’s activities.

The military said that in the past year, Palestinians in the West Bank had opened fire at troops or civilians at least 285 times, compared to 61 in 2021 and 31 in 2020.

The IDF recorded 7,589 incidents of stone-throwing and 1,268 Molotov cocktail attacks in 2022, compared to 5,532 and 1,022, respectively last year. In 2020, the IDF said there were 4,002 stone-throwing attacks and 751 firebombings.

There were 14 stabbing attacks in the West Bank over the past year, according to the IDF’s data. In 2021, the army recorded 18 stabbing attacks, and in 2020 just 9.

The military said troops have seized 493 illegal firearms during raids in the West Bank this year, compared to 397 last year and 541 in 2020. The IDF also said it had shuttered 14 weapons manufacturing sites in the West Bank over the past year.

The IDF said it had arrested 2,672 suspects during a months-long operation in the West Bank, launched following a series of deadly attacks. The attacks have left 31 people in Israel and the West Bank dead since the start of the year, including several soldiers.

Last year saw 2,288 suspects arrested in the West Bank, and 2020 saw similar numbers — 2,277 — despite there being no major operation. Last year saw four people killed in terror attacks, and in 2020 just three.

Palestinian gunmen take aim during an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Gaza Strip remains mostly quiet

The military said the Gaza Strip had been relatively quiet over the past year, despite there being a major clash with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in August.

According to the IDF’s data, the military conducted 118 strikes in the Gaza Strip over the past year, following rocket fire on Israel. The strikes targeted 257 sites.

Separately, the IDF said two tunnels dug by terror groups from Gaza toward the border fence were sealed. Israel’s new border fence with the Gaza Strip includes an underground barrier to prevent digging underneath it.

The fence has also prevented Palestinians from infiltrating into Israel from the Gaza Strip. The IDF said the past year saw 29 Palestinians attempting to cross into Israel, but all were stopped at the fence, without crossing it.

The IDF said just three rockets have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip within six months of the last major clash, which was in August.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, in Gaza City, August 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa, File)

Previously, rockets had continued to be fired at Israel at a higher rate following major operations.

According to the IDF, within six months of an 11-day war in May 2021, five rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel; 21 rockets were fired in the months following the 2014 Gaza war; 76 following the 2012 war; and 196 following the 2008 war.

IDF ramps up strikes in Syria

The IDF said it had conducted dozens of operations in Syria over the past year, striking hundreds of targets amid repeated efforts by Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country.

The military did not specify exactly how many strikes it had conducted as part of the so-called campaign between campaigns or war between wars — or Mabam, as it’s known by its Hebrew acronym — but an open-source aggregator of Israeli strikes in Syria counted at least 43 reported attacks.

The IDF says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.

A fire is seen after an alleged airstrike near the Syrian city of Masyaf, on August 25, 2022. (Social media: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law, file)

According to the IDF’s data, the military also conducted dozens of “special operations” over the past year.

The military said the Israeli Air Force conducted 105,000 total flight hours, which included 1,000 operational sorties by fighter jets and helicopters.

The Navy conducted some 30 operations in the past year, totaling 96.686 hours at sea, according to the IDF data.

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