The massive deployment reflects concern that some resistance to the pullout might be violent. Many settlers are expected to offer passive resistance, but security officials have issued repeated assessments that extremists – settlers or backers from outside Gaza – might even open fire.
The main settlers’ council issued a call on its followers on Tuesday to migrate en masse to Gaza on 18 July, a month before the pullout is to begin.
“Tens of thousands will march to Gush Katif (the main Gaza settlement bloc) to cancel the uprooting programme, while avoiding violence and disruption of the lives of the country’s citizens,” the statement said.
Shaul Goldstein, a settler leader, admitted on Tuesday that the pullout would go forward. “If you ask me realistically what are the chances to stop this plan, they are very, very small,” he told foreign correspondents.
The military is expected to declare Gaza off limits to non-residents before the pullout.
To implement the evacuation, troops will outnumber the settlers five to one, but the overwhelming ratio will not be reflected directly in the operation.
Hardline Jews are opposed to
Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of their positions, said the forces would be arrayed in six circles around Gaza.
Police in the innermost circle, reinforced by soldiers, will remove the settlers, while the other circles provide security, preventing Palestinian attacks on the one hand and infiltration by Israeli opponents of the pullout on the other.
On Tuesday afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon toured a site in southern Israel where new homes are being built for the Gaza settlers. “Disengagement will go ahead,” he said, referring to the pullout, “and nobody can hinder it, because this thing is important for Israel, very important for Israel”.
Hardline Jews have already tried to disrupt life around the country by blocking highways, and they threaten to step up their efforts during the pullout, hoping to divert troops and foil the operation.
“About 41,000 male and female soldiers will take part in the evacuation, and 3800 police”
Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz outlined the planned deployment at a stormy session of lawmakers, settlers and ministry officials about the pullout.
“About 41,000 male and female soldiers will take part in the evacuation, and 3800 police,” he said.
Sharon also told the committee that Israel has made it clear to the Palestinian Authority that it would respond harshly to Palestinian attacks during the pullout.
“If there is fire during the evacuation, our response will be very harsh, possibly so harsh that it would destroy the whole process,” he said.
On Tuesday, Palestinian Interior Minister Nassr Yousef met Major-General Yitzhak Harel, chief of Israeli military planning, to discuss coordinating the withdrawal, the military said. No decisions were announced.