TEL AVIV - The army plans to recruit almost all its reserve troops this year as Israel prepares to pull all soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip, a top officer told Ynetnews, ahead of one of Israel’s biggest withdrawals to date and its first from land Palestinians want for a future state.
“In 2005, because of the disengagement plan, recruitment of reserve units will be at its peak – between 90 to 100 percent, instead of 60 percent during a regular year,” said reserve officer Brigadier-General Ariel Hyman.
But most of the reserve forces will not participate in the actual pullout, but rather to reinforce military positions in Israel and the West Bank as the standing army and police officers work to pull some 8,500 settlers out of Gaza, he said.
“Every year, reserve troops are called to active duty and perform this duty to allow the standing army time to rest or conduct training,” he said. “This year..reserve units are also needed to be in places that the soldiers will leave from in order to conduct disengagement operations.”
Some reserve forces, Hyman said, will assist with the pullout, such as field medics, army attorneys and military rabbis.
He added that the army has still not decided whether to call to active duty reserve troops living in all 21 settlements in Gaza and four of 120 West Bank enclaves slated for evacuation during the pullout, which is set to begin this summer.
Several such soldiers had passed on personal letter to their officers emphasizing the sensitivity of the issue.
“Israel stands before one of its most difficult times – the implementation of the disengagement plan,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Ofer Shosan, a reserve officer. “The battalion is supposed to (serve on active duty) close to the time of the withdrawal, even though it was stated on the political and military level that reserve battalions would not (do so), but rather the standing army.”
The army also faces a challenge from soldiers who have threatened to resist orders to participate in the withdrawal and who say they will refuse to report for duty when summoned.
“Some people have threatened to refuse (orders) and we dealt with them,” Hyman said, referring to a group of reserve officers who were discharged from duty earlier this year. “I’m not taking the matter lightly. Such a thing cannot happen in this country, we will not accept it.”
Israel's last major pullout was from southern Lebanon in 2000 after 22 years of trying to quell almost daily attacks by Hizbullah terrorists.