Brig.-Gen. Nitzan Alon, the main target of settler criticism within the Israel Defense Forces, is now in charge of their security as the newly appointed GOC Central Command, it was announced Thursday. Alon will succeed Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi who will be retiring shortly.
Settlers generally view Alon as holding extreme left-wing views. Reacting to concerns from the right wing, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav (Poli) Mordechai on Friday said Alon's appointment was "purely professional," and not borne of political considerations.
It is at the tail end of a particularly tense week of extreme right-wing violence against soldiers and Palestinians in Judea and Samaria that IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to announce Alon's appointment, sending a clear message to the more extreme section of the larger settler public. Up until two months ago, Alon served as Judea and Samaria Division Commander, a position in which he frequently brushed up against the radical fringe of the settler movement.
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Earlier this week, extremist settlers broke into the Ephraim Brigade military base in Judea and Samaria, vandalizing property and physically assaulting a top commander. The incident drew extensive condemnations from across the political spectrum.
Last summer, settlers yelling "traitor" attacked Alon while he was in his vehicle at the Tapuach junction in Samaria. The personal attacks against him increased when a document was released indicating that he had excluded certain soldiers (with certain political views) from operations deemed "sensitive" – the evacuation of illegal settlements and outposts. Right-wing activists consequently began picketing his home, waving signs reading "Eichmann" and verbally attacking him.
Alon is a highly respected warrior within the IDF. He began his military career in the elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit [Sayeret Matkal], and was eventually promoted to become the unit's commander. In a ceremony two months ago marking the end of his term as commander of the Judea and Samaria Division he voiced harsh criticism against the settler practice known as "price-tag" activity – acts of vandalism and violence against Palestinians, and now, against the IDF, in retribution for anti-settlement government policies and evacuations of illegal outposts.
"Already, a tiny minority – in number, not in influence – could bring about a general escalation of violence with acts dubbed 'price tag' but that are actually acts of terror," Alon said at the ceremony. "Not only must these acts be condemned for the stupidity and harm in them, but they must also be stopped and their perpetrators arrested in a more efficient way than we have been able to achieve so far."
Right-wing responses to Alon's appointment were swift. Activists warned Thursday that Alon would face the same hostility from settlers that he had seen during his tenure in Judea and Samaria including protests outside his house and further attacks. One activist described the decision to appoint Alon "very strange – especially with this timing."
"Alon is well known for his political views. As the commander of the Judea and Samaria Division he put more and more strain on the relationship between the IDF and the settlers, and he is undoubtedly one of the main reasons behind the grave incidents we saw this week," the activist said, referring to a spate of so-called "price-tag" incidents including the break-in of the army base and the torching of several mosques.
The settlers will not quickly forgive Alon for hinting, following the brutal murder of five members of the Fogel family in Itamar by Palestinian terrorists, that the murders may have been a consequence of the "price-tag" tactic. "He granted this massacre a degree of legitimacy," the activist said. "It appears that Ehud Barak, for his own obvious political reasons, is trying to create more difficult weeks like this last one for the people of Israel."
MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) lamented the appointment, saying it was "the epitome of the saying 'a bull in a china shop' – at a time like this it would make sense to appoint a more moderate commander with less extreme political views than Alon."
Extreme rightist Noam Federman also remarked on the appointment, saying "this is a declaration of war against the settlements. Alon is an extreme leftist. He is the wrong man at the wrong time."
The head of the Efrat settlement council, however, responded with optimism, saying "I wish the new commander luck. This is a good appointment of a gifted officer. The Brigadier-General can expect many difficult challenges and we must all maintain dialogue and cooperation for him to succeed."
While commanding Sayeret Matkal between 1998 and 2001, Alon was awarded the Chief of Staff Citation for a covert mission he commanded. In 2003, Alon was appointed commander of the IDF's 551st Brigade "Hetzei Ha-Esh"/"Arrows of Fire." In 2005, Alon was appointed commander of the Etzion Division in Judea and Samaria. In 2007 he served as the chief operations officer in Military Intelligence's Operational Division.
During the Second Lebanon War in 2008 Alon commanded "Operation Crystal Clear" – a joint Special Operations mission carried out by the elite Sayeret Matkal and the Israel Air Force's Shaldag (Kingfisher) Special Forces unit in the Baalbek region in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Between 2009 and 2011 Alon commanded the Judea and Samaria" division in Beit El, where he came into regular contact with the settlement population. Alon has degrees in physics and chemical engineering from the Technion in Haifa. He is married and the father of four.
In addition to Alon's appointment, Gantz and Barak announced the appointment of Maj.-Gen. (res.) Shai Avital to head a new unit dubbed the Depth Corps which will focus on long-distance operations, apparently with an eye on Iran.
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