Monday, August 8, 2011

Raids in the West Bank and confrontation with Lebanon


Raids in the West Bank and confrontation with Lebanon
It has been very frustrating over the past couple days not to be able to post, as some pretty interesting events have been taking place in Israel. Now the technical details have been sorted out and this blog is now back up and running, I am going to kick off looking at the events over the past 24 hours on the Lebanese border and also the information which is coming out about the raid in Qalandiyah in the West Bank.
Israeli-Lebanese border
There has been an exchange of gunfire on the Israeli-Lebanese border this morning, when according to reports Lebanese Army personnel fired on an IDF unit who were carrying out an exercise along the border. It is so far unclear, but I think relatively likely that this operation was being carried out in one of the disputed enclaves of Israeli control. The Israeli troops responded with live fire, in accordance with the Rules of Engagement and according to most reports there were no injuries. Some suggestions have been made that one Lebanese soldier was lightly wounded.
The event is interesting mainly because the Northern border has been largely quiet since 2006. I don’t think however, that the event is in fact that significant. This was Lebanese Army, rather than Hezbollah…which perhaps gives you an idea of how low Hezbollah are lying at the moment, but other than that it is a nothing issue. It does feel strange to say that about people shooting at one another but I honestly think in this case it is justified. The Israelis are not threatening large retaliation, and so far the UN has not come out with any particularly interesting statements. There will be an investigation by the UN peacekeeping force in Souther Lebanon, I doubt there findings will be very groundbreaking.
Once again, no party to the Northern conflict, least of all Israel, currently has a strategic advantage in the conflict going hot. A little bit of nuisance firing here or there, and harassment of patrols on the other side is pretty much par for the course. Let’s hope the peace holds.
The situation in the West Bank is of much greater importance to Israeli security right now.
Palestinian youth in Qalandiyah riot
Reports are coming out that suggest during an operation to arrest terror suspects in Qalandiyah, a Palestinian town-refugee camp, a riot broke out and the IDF troops were attacked by a mob using bottles and rocks. At least two Palestinians were shot and killed by the Israeli troops, while another was wounded by gunfire and is now stable in hospital.
Qalandiyah is well known for the fiery demonstrations, riots and violence that defined the Second Intifada. Israeli patrols are well known to the area, particularly during times of rising tension, and it is no surprise to find the Israelis moving in to pick people up there. The reaction, however, is far from typical of Palestinian communities in the West Bank. The IDF usually succeed in moving in relatively quickly and without warning to pick people up, and therefore don’t have to deal with large-scale resistance. While some people have jumped to say that this was the kind of resistance to Israeli military occupation that we can expect more of in September, I have to say I have a more plausible explanation. The people the Israelis went in to get, or those around them, clearly got word that the Israelis crossing over to pick them up. Their way of escaping is to bring a mob on to the streets and the roofs of houses to pelt the soldiers with bottles and rocks with the intention of bogging them down, and using the confusion and hold-up to make their escape. So far we do not know if they managed to do that, as I haven’t been able to find confirmation as to whether any of the three men who were shot were among the suspects, or if the IDF later managed to arrest them.
The charge as usual from Palestinian residents is that the Israelis began firing indiscriminately as soon as they were confronted by the missile-throwing mob. As a result of that firing, two innocent Palestinian men in their 20s were killed. I find this unconvincing. Firstly, IDF troops do not fire indiscriminately into crowds of people. Secondly, if they did, far more than two people would be dead, with one extra wounded. There are questions to answer regarding the two who were shot. It is imperative that the IDF continues to be thorough in her investigations after every engagement, particularly when it results in loss of life. In this case, one of the dead is a university student, and one is a Palestinian Intelligence Officer. I believe that it is very possible that the Palestinian Intelligence Officer was shot while helping organise the distraction or escape of persons of interest to Israeli law enforcement and military officials. The shooting of the law student is of more concern to me. He was apparently shot in the head, which makes it highly likely that it was intentional and that there was time to consider what was happening more thoroughly than with the Intelligence Officer, who it appears died from a wound to the chest, which is more likely to have come from close quarters combat. The shooting of the law student should be investigated very thoroughly and above all the findings made public. I am not suggesting the use of lethal force was not justified, but I am anxious to know the details. He may be a militant, he would hardly be the first Palestinian or Islamist to combine studies with terrorism. He may have been endangering the lives of IDF personnel, by preparing or having in his possession a deadly weapon. I don’t know, and frankly the only people who do are the IDF soldier who shot him, the officer who gave the order (unless it was a standing order), the dead student and potentially some other Palestinians around him.
The IDF operate a tight and robust set of Rules of Engagement, and are probably the best trained urban fighting force on the planet. They operate daily in high pressure, high cost missions that are intimately involved in the security of the State of Israel. They are also the most scrutinised military force in the world, with world media and law enforcement carrying out investigations (or in the case of the media just repeating word of mouth) in a never-ending series of allegations and unjustified charges against the integrity of the IDF. If an Israeli commander says that a certain case of the use of lethal force was necessary, I on the whole believe it. In fact, I believe it more than I would the British Army, or the US. Considering the records of those two countries in Iraq and Afghanistan, I feel that increased scepticism is justified.
I am aware however, that as with all other militaries, the IDF does operate differently at night. With reduced visibility, force protection and ability to respond to attack, most militaries slightly relax the Rules of Engagement and increase the amount of fire power that can be used as an immediate response to armed attack. It is imperative for the safety of the troops that they are able to defend themselves effectively when threatened in hazardous, night-time conditions. It is also extremely important that Israel and other countries balance the need for surprise and fewer civilians around which comes with operating at night, with the increased dangers that brings.
This particular operation will only be properly judged once we know all the details, which as always will come only after a relatively slow investigation by the IDF. When you put that against the propaganda machine of the Palestinians, the first news cycle is never going to go the Israeli way, so Israel must do its very best to illustrate all areas of this mission that can be, and so win the fight in the minds of those who are prepared to listen for more than 30 seconds.