The official start of the pullout. The government is readying itself to give up Yesha completely.
Last update - 08:24 21/08/2007
By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz Correspondent
The Israel Defense Forces does not intend to renew its contract with some 170 security guards in West Bank settlements, military sources told Haaretz on Monday.
The Israel Defense Forces currently holds contracts until the end of 2007 with employed civilian guards who provide security for 35 settlements.
The IDF had hired up to eight guards in each settlement, usually residents of that settlement, the sources said. Guards patrolled the settlements' boundaries and constituted the communities' first line of defense in terror attacks.
Guards were trained by the IDF via a program known as "Fortress," and received military equipment as well as full salaries and benefits.
An officer in the IDF Central Command explained that the defense establishment is not interested in renewing the contracts because that would oblige the Defense Ministry to make the Fortress guards permanent employees.
"The situation entails a legal predicament," the officer said. "The defense establishment is currently downsizing on commissioned officers and permanent workers.
If the guards in the Fortress program were to receive permanent status, it would appear as though the Defense Ministry were trying to hand out jobs through the back door."
Private security firms
To replace the decommissioned guards, the IDF is considering hiring private security firms to take over security in the settlements. "The only other alternative is employing more IDF troops and officers for security detail in these settlements," an army source said. "However, by the time they became acquainted with the terrain, they would already have to be replaced."
Moreover, the source said, "the IDF would have to increase the number of troops employed in providing security for settlements from 400 to 600."
As rumors spread of the Defense Ministry's plan to terminate the contracts, Fortress guards began looking for alternative sources of employment.
In 2005, the program comprised 280 guards, but over 100 guards have since left it.
Sources in the defense and security establishment said that the Fortress program costs NIS 40 million per annum. They added that the switch to private security firms would not increase the cost.