Bracing for an outbreak of violence should peace talks with the Palestinians collapse, the IDF on Wednesday morning held an impromptu military exercise by the Central Command to practice possible scenarios of escalation in the West Bank.
Details of the exercise were released by the IDF Spokesperson's Unit just one hour after Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement in Gaza, which aims to end more than six years of bitter infighting.
As part of the exercise, a brigade stationed in the Etzion region of the West Bank practiced using riot control measures to deal with local disturbances and possible terror attacks.
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said that the exercises "applied to the deployment of IDF forces in surprise scenarios." The spokesman stressed that similar exercises "have been carried out by the IDF in various sectors over the last few years."
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IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz visited army divisions taking part in the exercise, and had a working meeting with the GOC Central Command, Major General Nitzan Alon; Commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, Brigadier General Tamir Yadai, and Commander of the Etzion Brigade, Colonel Amit Yamin.
Gantz later spoke to the soldiers participating in the exercise, providing professional guidance and sharing advice accrued through decades in the service. A broad range of units participated in the exercise, including infantry battalions, emergency crews and medical corps, as well as officers from the Border Police.
The exercise, held in the Bethlehem region, was just one in a series of extensive drills meant to prepare efficient contingency plans for the Central Command in the case of a spontaneous or organized spike in violence in the West Bank – which the IDF expects to happen in response to the failure of the peace talks.
Military sources refuse to call this possibility a "Third Intifada", because they suspect that any new wave of violence in the West Bank will differ to what they saw 10 years ago.
Another brigade exercise took place in the same region just a few weeks ago, when Gantz surprised the soldiers with an unnanounced early morning drill. The exercise lasted for three days and included a series of scenarios of extreme violence, some without any warning from Military Intelligence.
These scenarios included suicide bombing on a bus of school children at Gush Etzion Junction, terrorists firing upon vehicles, the use of explosives at IDF forces, and a violent demonstration within Bethlehem.
Speaking Wednesday, Gantz told the soldiers of the Lavi Battalion, who are responsible for security in the Etzion region that troops must be ready for an outbreak of violence.
"In total there is a seemingly stable atmosphere with terrorist incidents and disturbances here and there, but this reality requires us to constantly operate in two layers – in routine security actions in problematic areas, and on the other hand, we must be prepared for the possibility of a broader escalation like we practiced today," he said.
Major General Alon added, "It could be that an escalation will slowly develop, and it could come in one explosive event."