Yaakov Katz
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
August 15, 2011 - 12:00am

Contrary to the near-hysteric reactions in Jerusalem, defense establishment doesn't believe the world will come to an end. Far from it.

What will happen on September 21? Probably not that much. It will be the day after the Palestinian Authority unilaterally declares statehood at the United Nations General Assembly, but contrary to what one might be led to believe by the near-hysteric reactions in Jerusalem, the defense establishment does not believe that the world will come to an end. Far from it.

Firstly, the demonstrations will likely not erupt immediately. While everyone is talking about this period called “September,” the period will likely last through October and November and even longer depending on political developments.

While demonstrations will likely erupt throughout the the West Bank, the PA has made a point in recent weeks to calm Israeli fears and assure the IDF and the political echelon that it will prevent them from turning violent. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has spoken in recent weeks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayad in an effort to coordinate what will happen.

This is because an outbreak of violence, along the lines of the second intifada, would play right into Israel’s hands and give the government the legitimacy to use force to strike back at the PA and destroy everything the Abbas- Fayad duo has built in recent years.

It will however be in the PA’s interest to continually remind the world that despite the recognition that it received at the UN, it is still living under occupation and that the IDF is still patrolling through its cities.

This can be achieved by holding peaceful protests throughout the West Bank – the likes of which have been seen in recent years at Bil’in and Ni’lin against the security barrier.

That is why some senior defense officials have expressed more concern with a potential boycott that could be imposed on Israel following the PA’s declaration of statehood even if it is not legally binding. The first market that would likely be affected is the defense market that has been the pride of the political establishment in recent years as Israel consistently ranked in the top four countries worldwide in defense sales.

Militarily, the challenge mostly will be to keep a lid on things and to let the Palestinians demonstrate but without letting the situation get out of control. This is due to an understanding that dead and wounded Palestinian demonstrators will strengthen the PA’s cause and and undermine Israel’s legitimacy.

For this reason, Israel is investing a tremendous amount of resources in mental preparations for soldiers and policemen who will be on the frontlines when the demonstrations erupt. They will need to know how to restrain themselves since a small tactical mistake on the ground could end up having major diplomatic repercussions for Israel around the world.

The IDF’s real concern is actually with the northern border and with the possibility, as reported earlier this month in The Jerusalem Post, that Syrian soldiers will feel the need to “protect” their people and will open fire on IDF troops trying to stop the protesters from crossing into Israel like over 100 did on Nakba Day in May.

There are major unknowns here. What happens, for example, if a single Syrian soldier opens fire? What happens if a local Syrian commander deploys tanks along the border and decides to shoot a shell into Israel? Does Israel respond forcefully at the risk of going to war or does it demonstrate restraint at the risk of appearing weak?

Beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Assad could actually be interested in a wider conflict with Israel, one that would shift the focus away from the slaughtering of his own people and align the entire country against a common enemy. Israel will need to make sure not to fall into that trap.


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