- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

JERUSALEM Tom was serving dinner to guests at his home in a Jerusalem suburb when soldiers came knocking at his door on Friday night. They said he had five minutes to pack a bag and board a bus heading for one of Israel's military centers in the West Bank.
Tom, a 35-year-old Israeli who asked not to be identified by his full name, finished his mandatory army service more than a dozen years ago. But like most men in Israel, he forms part of a half-million-strong reserve force that springs into action in times of war.
As part of its offensive against the Palestinians, Israel has begun mobilizing thousands of reservists like Tom, although their number is still far short of the country's entire force. The last time it put all its men in uniform was in 1973, when Syria and Egypt surprised Israel in an armored blitz on its borders.
But for the first time in 20 years, the army is calling up entire units, knocking on doors at night and plucking men from their jobs and families to scour Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for militants and weapons.
"We had friends over, and suddenly two soldiers walked up the garden path. They told me I had a few minutes to get ready. I was stunned," said Tom, a father of three.
Like other reservists, Tom is called up for about a month of duty every year. This is the first time he has been summoned without notice for an indefinite period.
The call-up of what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said would be 20,000 troops is both revealing and risky. It suggests Israel is planning an extended offensive against Palestinians, much broader than its three-day incursion last month, analysts said.
Mr. Sharon declared in a televised address last night that the Jewish state was "at war."
"In these kinds of situations, there is always the possibility of inadvertent escalation based on a misreading of the other side's intentions," said Mark Heller, an analyst with Tel Aviv University's Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies.
Mr. Heller said the prospects of such an escalation are low. While Egypt and Jordan recalled their ambassadors from Tel Aviv long ago over fighting in the West Bank and Gaza, both were standing by their peace treaties with Israel.
But Syria and its proxy in Lebanon, the Islamic Hezbollah group, could be less predictable, especially if Israel ends up killing or arresting Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Hezbollah fired dozens of rockets and shells at Israel's northern border yesterday, prompting Israeli air strikes.
Most of the 20,000 reservists will be channeled to the West Bank and Gaza, but some will take up positions on the borders with Syria and Egypt, say well-placed Israeli military sources.
About 18,000 men have been mobilized since Mr. Sharon's Cabinet approved the call-up early Friday, the sources said. Most serve in infantry and armored divisions, while some are in the army's elite commando units.
Amir Oren, a military analyst who writes for the Ha'aretz daily, said the army doesn't like mobilizing reserves, mainly because the high wages it pays them ends up draining the military budget.
Under law, the army must pay each reservist the same salary he would have received from his civilian employer during the time served.
"This comes out to a great deal of money, which the army would rather spend on other items, such as military hardware," he said.
But Mr. Oren said the army had been so overwhelmed since the Palestinian uprising erupted in the West Bank and Gaza 18 months ago that it dramatically scaled back training and schooling of soldiers.
Mr. Heller said the army was eager to bring in more reservists for another reason their capacity for self-control.
"I think there is an assumption that reservists, who are a little older and more mature, might be more psychologically predisposed to operating in built-up areas in the way the government would like them to operate, not to be trigger-happy," he said.
Israel doesn't reveal the size of its standing army, but think tanks like the Jaffe Center estimate it to be about 150,000. Nearly one in five soldiers is a member of a combat unit. The rest make up the support echelon of the Israeli army.
About 30,000 conscripts, along with about 10,000 reservists, patrol Israel's borders at any one time. The additional call-up will expand the Israeli force by 50 percent, analysts said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide