Security forces who took part in the large-scale pullout exercise Wednesday feel they are ready to face the mission, Colonel Erez Katz said after the "dress rehearsal" before the evacuation drew to an end.
About 15,000 police and soldiers participated in the two-day exercise, held in Kibbutz Kerem Shalom in southern Israel. The residents of the kibbutz were put up in hotels in Ashkelon for the duration of the drill.
"We certainly feel ready and know the soldiers feel that way as well," he said. "Even though we simulated some extreme scenarios, we believe most settlers would not resort to violence…some of them are even waiting for the soldiers with cakes and candy."
One of the drill’s commanders summed up the exercise as a “simulation which tried, as much as possible, to recreate the reality that soldiers will find on the ground. Thousands of soldiers took part, some playing the evacuators, others those being cleared, and different situations were simulated, such as a fortressed protester on the roof, disorder, and the throwing of nails on the roads.”
“The commanders of the first, second, and third circles of clearers also held an exercise. Its certainly fair to say that we feel good about all the practice. Soldiers who took part in questioners said they felt good about being able to carry out the mission,” said the commander, who added that there are soldiers who have trained for the mission on over ten simulated exercises.
The commander also said he thought some of the Gush Katif residents would leave their homes by August 15, the day the pullout will commence, while others would leave in the following two days, before the start of the forceful evacuation.
“I’m convinced that the rules of the game will change will not change, and we will show all the sensitivity that a family forced to leave its home deserves.”
Earlier, the drill was halted temporarily because soldiers complained that Border Police forces were too violent while evacuating troops acting as settlers.
During the drill, the forces practiced different scenarios expected to occur during Israel's planned withdrawal from all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four of the 120 in the West Bank, set to start next week.
Although more than half of the some 9,000 Gaza settlers slated for evacuation are expected to leave ahead of the withdrawal, forces are preparing to forcibly remove hundreds who are likely to resist the pullout.
Commanders told Border Police to use force only in case of violent resistance. But they dragged away soldiers who didn't resist as well.
Several officers knocked a soldier posing as a settler on the ground after she climbed on a military jeep with a megaphone, forcing commanders to step in and stop the exercise.
Senior officers then began arguing about the level of force that should be used during the actual pullout.
"If this is what happens in a drill, what will happen during the actual evacuation?" a security official said.
Pullout drill at Kerem Shalom (Photo: AP)
The final dress rehearsal
Southern District Commander Uri Bar-Lev told Ynet the defense establishment has reached its last stage of pullout preparations.
“We want to test our ability to demonstrate sensitivity towards the evacuated population, while still demonstrating the firmness needed to carry out this complicated task, using the most difficult opposition scenarios,” Bar-Lev said.
He explained that the drill is the last stage of the preparation process whereby all security forces are to be unified as one group for next week's mission.
“After we’ve planned, established our forces and trained them, we're having a dress rehearsal before the premiere,” Bar-Lev said. “Today, during these difficult scenarios, we will be able to determine how our forces will deal with evacuating isolated settlements, and the model is Kerem Shalom.”
The evacuating forces will be headed by the police and will include IDF troops and Border Guard forces.
They will be divided into groups of 17 people each, with the aim of evacuating two settlements a day, granted no disturbances such as Palestinian fire or settler opposition hinder their mission.
In order to accommodate the security forces, the Defense Ministry has sent Kibbutz residents on a fully paid vacation to the southern city of Ashkelon for the duration of the drill.
- Ronny Sofer contributed to the report