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Misconception 5:
The IDF’s Resources Are Limitless

Protection of the settlements ties down most of the IDF’s ground forces and hinders its ability to guard other fronts and train combat units. Israel must choose—settlements or security. On October 7, the cost of favoring the settlements was became painfully clear.

September 2013

 The Netanyahu Government stops stationing troops to protect communities on the borders with Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and Egypt

June 2014

 As part of budget cutbacks, the Government dismisses half of the settlement security coordinators in the Gaza periphery

June 2016

  A senior Defense Ministry official: “Our ability to train and improve our readiness is limited, because much of the IDF’s order of battle is stuck in Judea and Samaria”

December 2021

 Construction of the 65-km electronic fence around the Gaza Strip is completed, at a cost of some 3.5 billion shekels

December 2021

 The IDF collects the weapons of the Gaza periphery communities. The weapons of the members of the rapid-response squads in settlements located 4 to 7 kilometers from the fence squad are confiscated, leaving each community with only two rifles

June 2023

  In the wake of terrorist acts by settlers, the Government reinforces the Judea-Samaria theater with additional battalions, with a corresponding reduction in their training for combat

October 2023

 During Sukkot, in response to holiday events and disturbances by settlers, the IDF beefs up its forces in Judea and Samaria in order to protect the settlers. Three battalions of the Southern Command are sent to the West Bank

October 7, 2023

  Hamas launches a surprise attack on the Gaza periphery communities. More thanSome 1,200 Israelis are murdered and about 2540  abducted. That morning, two battalions are stationed along the border with Gaza, as compared to 32 battalions in Judea and Samaria

The IDF is a finite resource. It does not have an endless supply of soldiers, tanks, helicopters, and weapons to defend every locality in the country. Consequently, the use of its resources and the decision of how and where to deploy them, reflect national priorities. On the morning of October 7, when more than a thousand defenseless Israelis were slaughtered in the south, only two battalions were stationed on the border with the Gaza Strip. At the same time, in Judea and Samaria, there were no fewer than 32 battalions.

On the morning of October 7, when more than a thousand defenseless Israelis were slaughtered in the south, only two battalions were stationed on the border with the Gaza Strip. In Judea and Samaria, there were no fewer than 32 battalions

Why were 16 times more battalions needed for defense in the West Bank than on the Gaza frontier? Over the years the right-wing settler movement has erected civilian settlements in hostile territory, whose security requires a vast supply of military resources at the expense of other fronts. Contrary to the arguments advanced by the Right, security is not, and never was, the motivating factor for establishing the settlement project and devoting enormous security resources to it. The motives are religious and ideological: advancing the coming of the Messiah, gaining control of the entire biblical Land of Israel, pushing out the Palestinians, and preventing the return of territories as part of a peace agreement. As one of the leaders of Gush Emunim, Menachem Reuven Felix, explained as early as 1979, when the project was still in its infancy: “Settlement itself… does not stem from security motives or physical needs, but from destiny and the return of Israel to its land.” 

In order to maintain control over as much territory as possible, settlements and illegal outposts were established across the West Bank, at a substantial distance from one another. As noted by Maj. Gen. (res.) Moshe Kaplinsky, a former OC Central Command and Deputy Chief of Staff, this means that “the presence of civilians across the West Bank does not assist defense and strains security forces, sucking up much of their resources, adding endless points of friction and extending the army’s lines of defense.” At the most conservative estimate, the line of demarcation between Israel and the West Bank is at least five times longer than it would be, were it not for the settlements.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Moshe Kaplinsky: “the presence of civilians across the West Bank does not assist defense and strains security forces, sucking up much of their resources, adding endless points of friction and extending the army’s lines of defense.”

Approximately half a million Israelis live in the West Bank today, most of them in settlements that lie west of the separation fence and are protected by it. However, many settlements – and nearly all outposts – are situated east of the fence, many of them smack in the middle of hostile Palestinian towns and villages. Protecting kindergartens, schools, the roads that connect the settlements to Israel, and the day-to-day life of tens of thousands of people who create constant friction with the Palestinians requires a massive deployment of military forces and resources.

To take one example, the Jewish enclave in Hebron, controlled by the IDF, has no more than 800 permanent residents and another 250 yeshiva students. To protect them, in the midst of a population of 33,000 Palestinians[YL1]  (within Hebron’s Jewish Quarter), the IDF assigns an entire infantry battalion and two companies of the Border Police— about 600 uniformed personnel: more than one soldier to watch over every two settlers. Another example: In October 2023, just two days before Black Saturday, no fewer than three battalions and significant other military resources were reassigned to provide

security for mass prayers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus).

Naturally, the enormous investment of security resources in defending a civilian population situated deep in hostile territory comes at the expense of other missions. The order of battle that the IDF maintains in the West Bank amounts to more than half—sometimes even two-thirds—of its combat personnel. That is, more troops are stationed there than are assigned to defend all the other fronts— Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and the Jordan Rift Valley—taken together.

The IDF maintains more than half—sometimes even two-thirds—of its combat personnel in the West Bank. That is, more troops are stationed there than are assigned to defend all the other fronts— Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and the Jordan Rift Valley—taken together.

Nor is this the only problem. Not only does the settlement enterprise divert vast defense resources to the West Bank in support of a messianic ideology; it also detracts from the IDF’s readiness for battle on other fronts. Units that spend most of their time policing the West Bank do not have time to train for war. Only recently, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik explained that the IDF’s policing activities in the West Bank reduce  its readiness for battle on several complex fronts. “Because of the need to operate as a police force in the territories, the IDF has stopped training and has lost its readiness,” he said. “We don’t have a large enough army to police both Gaza and the Territories while also defending the Lebanese border. That just can’t work.”

If that is not enough, settler terrorism makes the task of providing security in the West Bank even more difficult, significantly increasing both the resources required and the risks involved. In 2021, for example, there were 450 violent incidents—including arson, live fire, and stone-throwing—against Palestinians on the West Bank. The figure doubled in 2022. According to IDF data, that year saw around 850 violent events on the West Bank—an average of between two and three a day. The IDF has to deal with these incidents as well as with their potential for the escalation of terrorism by Palestinians.

 

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick: “Because of the need to operate as a police force in the territories, the IDF has stopped training and has lost its readiness. We don’t have a large enough army to police both Gaza and the Territories while also defending the Lebanese border. That just can’t work.”

Despite the severe damage to Israeli security that the settlements have caused over the years, and which was manifested most clearly and painfully by the massacre on October 7, the settler right wing has not engaged in soul-searching in the massacre’s aftermath. On the contrary, during the first week of combat, while the IDF was doing its utmost to avoid having to fight on two fronts, dozens of incidents were recorded involving live fire by settlers toward Palestinian villages in Judea and Samaria. Even the head of the Shin Bet and the IDF Chief of Staff

warned Israel’s cabinet that settler violence threatened to bring the West Bank to the boiling point, placing the IDF in a difficult spot, and forcing it to divert forces to Judea and Samaria instead of sending them to handle the urgent needs in the north and the south.

When the settlements demand so much, nothing is left for Israel’s south. Today, however, it is clearer than ever: Israel must choose—settlements or security. The present situation, in which the bulk of IDF resources go to guarding the settlers is not a decree of fate but a political decision by Israeli governments that capitulate to the settler right wing. Day after day, and even more so since October 7, the consequences of choosing to prioritize the settlements are crystal clear. Will Israel be able to favor national security?