The minor coverage by Arab media and the relatively low number of participants at Sunday’s protests attest to the failure of “Naksa Day.” The Syrian regime also failed in its efforts to divert local and global public opinion away from the Syria uprising to the Palestinian “marches of return” towards the Golan border fence. At this time, “Naksa Day” on the Syrian border and in the territories was a weak imitation of “Nakba Day”
events some three weeks ago. There are three main reasons for this.
The first reason is the lack of motivation and enthusiasm on the Palestinian side, which was noticeable several days ago on social networks. The calls urging people to protest were sporadic and unfocused, and did not show a significant effort by the large organizations and their leaders to excite the masses. To begin with, “Naksa Day” was meant to imitate the events of “Nakba Day,” which also wasn’t such great success, with the exception of the Majdal Shams border breach.
The Palestinians aren’t stupid. They know that this time around the IDF was better prepared.
They also realized that “Naksa Day” was merely the promo meant to maintain the momentum ahead of the major events planned for September. Besides, imitation is always a weak duplicate of the original, especially when dealing with masses who must be excited again a short while after the original event and brought in from their homes to the area of confrontation with the IDF.
One of the characteristics of Arab world uprisings is that protests are spontaneous outbursts of fury that take place right at home, and the casualties are relatives or neighbors, rather than unknown persons from a distant refugee camp who arrived by bus.
The second reason is the deterrence produced by IDF reaction during “Nakba Day.” Israel’s decisive response that day and the warnings issued by senior political and military leaders in recent days minimized the hopes for another significant achievement like the Majdal Shams border breach. It also made it clear to potential protestors that they may pay a terrible price for a brief TV appearance, the first and possibly last of their lives.
The third reason is that authorities in Lebanon, Gaza, the Palestinian Authority and apparently Syria as well did everything they could to prevent mass events that could spin out of control and mix them up in a major, direct confrontation with Israel. Even Hezbollah enlisted to the cause of restraint for fear that Shiite residents of Southern Lebanon may be hurt and for fear that events my prompt a major flare-up.
On this front, we should also credit the diplomatic effort undertaken by Israel in advance, with the active assistance of the US Administration, the Europeans and the UN. The clarification that Israel is entitled to prevent harm to its sovereignty and citizens, and that any state or government element that allows such harm will be held legally accountable for the fatal results of such incidents, was clearly understood in neighboring states and in Damascus as well.
Yet while this was known in Damascus, Syrian officials, for considerations pertaining to regime survivability, could not pass on the opportunity to undertake a provocation on the Golan that may moderate and divert the attention of the masses at home. As they usually do in their conduct vis-à-vis Israel, the Syrians chose to use emissaries – that is, the Palestinians. Syria’s fingerprints were evident in every detail: Starting with driving the protestors to the site, through Syrian TV, which set up several broadcast points and covered the events live, and including the ambulances and medical teams deployed in advance at points of friction.
However, this time around the IDF and Israel’s other security forces were thoroughly prepared on the operational, planning, legal and intelligence fronts. The difference was mostly evident on the Syrian and Lebanese borders. IDF Northern Command officials conducted deep analysis of “Nakba Day” events and embarked on thorough preparation work weeks ago.
The major insight was that the most important means for containing rioting masses is an obstacle that would hinder them. All obstacles can be breached, yet the minutes, hours or days it takes to do so usually make all the difference between the success and failure of the defenders. The obstacle allows defenders to break the momentum of the initial assault wave, whether we are dealing with excited masses, infiltrators, or even suicide bombers.
The obstacle also allows the IDF to channel infiltrators into what army officials refer to as the “playing field,” where forces are deployed to “contain” the incident and cope with the oncoming rush using crowd dispersal means, arms that are less lethal, or sniper fire aimed at the legs in line with predetermined rules. An obstacle also grants defenders precious time to dispatch reserve forces to points of friction that were not predicted in advance.
Near Majdal Shams, the obstacle set up in recent days proved its efficiency. The protestors failed to reach the border fence as they did on “Nakba Day.” The combination of barbed wire and trenches made progress almost impossible. Those who nonetheless attempted to move towards the border fence and ignored warnings in Arabic on the loud speaker, as well as warning shots in the air, were shot in the legs by snipers deployed at predetermined positions.
Everything was done in a controlled, level-headed manner with minimal use of live fire. Most of those shot were wounded, and those killed were apparently moving fast, thus making it difficult for snipers to hit accurately. Alternately, they may have died as result of blood loss during the lengthy evacuation process. The IDF prepared a large quantity of crowd dispersal means on the Golan which were mostly unused. Large reserve forces were also prepared but were not used.
At the time of writing this, “Naksa Day” events have not ended yet. However, even when they wind down, likely overnight, we must keep in mind that what we saw today was merely the promo ahead of what’s in store; in the future, Israel’s security forces will have to prepare for and contend with situations that are much more complicated.