"Palestinian Authority might stop considering Hamas as an enemy"

For more than two years, Brig. Gen. Alon had one of the more challenging jobs in the IDF (Zahal) – commanding the Judea and Samaria Division

Date: 09/11/2011, 7:04 PM     Author: Florit Shoihet

The following is a condensed and translated version of an exclusive interview Brigadier General Nitzan Alon gave to IDF (Zahal) Website.

After two years on the job, Brigadier General Nitzan Alon recently finished his time as commander of the IDF (Zahal)’s Judea and Samaria Division.

“We knew both stinging failures and proper successes,” Brig. Gen. Alon said at the change of command ceremony.

Before having one of the IDF (Zahal)’s most challenging command posts placed in his hands, Brig. Gen. Alon served in a long list of significant roles. And leading the Judea and Samaria division was a non-stop endeavor for him. So it’s not surprising that one of the first things he did after leaving the post was to take a family vacation to Eilat.

But the important questions that faced Brig. Gen. Alon in recent years still weigh on his mind.

‘Reality is not static, it changes all the time,” he said in an exclusive interview with IDF (Zahal) Website. ‘It certainly does not depend on the identity of a division commander.”

Brig. Gen. Alon cautiously weighs his words and analyzes all aspects of each detail, befitting one who possesses a double degree in physics and material engineering.

The strategic reality of the region is changing, he said.

“You cannot judge the situation one-dimensionally and the challenge is to conduct operations relevant to the changing reality,” he continued. “Mainly, I wanted to look ahead. The basic mission in Judea and Samaria has the passive connotation of preserving the reality, preventing terrorist attacks and of maintaining the status quo. The challenge is to truly find ways to initiate and be proactive.”

And recent months in Judea and Samaria saw much action. The threat of unilateral Palestinian steps at the UN along with the violent Nakba and Naksa Day riots got the attention of IDF (Zahal) commanders. Millions of shekels were invested in crowd control training, riot dispersal means and the strengthening of engineering and logistical infrastructure. In the end, “September” amounted to a number of violent disturbances as well as demonstrations and rallies in Palestinian cities.

“First of all, the current slogan is that ‘this is not a date, but rather a process’ and overall our estimate of ‘September’ materialized quite accurately,” Brig. Gen. Alon said, stating that he thinks the IDF (Zahal) prepared appropriately.

“This threat is relevant and certainly needs to be part of the basic training of the division,” he said. “I don’t regret any shekel spent or exercise conducted. This investment is relevant.”

At the same time, it has become apparent that the “Arab Spring”, which some alternatively call the “Radical Islamic Winter”, resonates even among Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.

“This adds to the uncertainty – there is here potentially explosive material,” Brig. Gen. Alon said. “It could be an uprising against us, or one against the Palestinian Authority.”

Brig. Gen. Alon takes seriously the possibility of a scenario in which the Palestinian Authority no longer sees Hamas as a common enemy. “But, if I look at my time over the past two years,” he said, “and even a year before, the PA has been a stabilizing force that truly views Hamas as its main enemy. It’s not just words, but mainly deeds. PA security forces thwart attacks, operate to suppress Hamas, and they’re not doing it for our good looks or a love of Israel. They do it because they perceive it as part of their ability to govern and their ability to survive physically. The trauma of the events of Hamas’ rise to power in Gaza is seared in their minds.”

There is, however, another side. “Within its people, the PA needs public support,” Brig. Gen. Alon noted, saying this is why the PA pursues unilateral measures against Israel and a reconciliation agreement with Hamas.

“There certainly could be a situation in which the PA does not see Hamas as its chief enemy, but the PA will always fear the rise of Hamas,” he said.

Despite the relative security calm in Judea and Samaria, there have been some unusual events in the past year, including the raising of Hamas flags, the detonation of an explosive device next to an IDF (Zahal) force and a night during which IDF (Zahal) soldiers conducted dozens of arrests.

“I think the daily reality sometimes doesn’t make headlines because there aren’t attacks, but the main business is the continuation of the fight against terrorism,” Brig. Gen. Alon said. He added that the IDF (Zahal)’s anti-terror mechanisms work “all the time and continuously.”

Brig. Gen. Alon said that terrorist attacks are thwarted constantly, sometimes at the last minute.

He said that the IDF (Zahal) has been operating intensively against Hamas terrorist infrastructure in the city of Hebron, noting that hundreds of Hamas members have been detained in that area.

Brig. Gen. Alon also said that there has been a revival of the Islamic Jihad group in northern Samaria and that there has been an increase in Hamas and PFLP activity in the Binyamin-Ramallah area.

“We do not discriminate and we fight any person or group that engages in terrorism,” he said.