First Israeli Victory Against Palestinians Will Impact on Global War Vs Terror
The Tulkarm refugee camp was the third such location to be tackled by Israeli forces’ new counter-offensive – after the Nablus camp of Balata and the Jenin camp – all on the West Bank.
Tulkarm was also the venue of a turning point – the Israel army’s first clear combat victory since Yasser Arafat launched his grinding terror confrontation 17 months ago.
The Palestinians are right to call March 8 “Red Friday”. They lost more than 50 dead and 200 wounded in one day in the accumulating West Bank and Gaza Strip combat sectors.
But since Israeli forces began driving into refugee camps on February 28, Palestinian forces have suffered one setback after another. Suddenly, they are being forced to take on a well-trained, determined army – no longer on the defensive. Israeli troops are for the first time entering the hard-core terrorist bases buried in the camps and beating the Palestinians on their own terrain, in house-to-house, close quarter combat. Scores of long-sought suspects were rounded up and their weapons stores and workshops discovered and impounded.
The climax occurred on Friday, March 8, when in the Tulkarm camp more than 600 Palestinian men, including hundreds of Arafat’s Force-17 and Tanzim-Fatah, al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas and Jihad Islami combatants, surrendered and handed their arms over to Israeli Golani Brigade troops. A Qasem rocket workshop was discovered with ten rockets ready for launching and bombing making and explosive plants.
Two days of battle and siege were over.
That victory capped a week in which 34 Israelis died at the hands of Palestinian terrorists, six days after whole families were wiped out in Jerusalem on their way out of the end-of-Sabbath prayer service by a Palestinian suicide bomber, and on the very day that five more armed and bomb-belted Palestinian suicides were caught advancing on their targets.
Whatever may be done to belittle or derogate Israel’s military achievement, the fact remains that the IDF is the only in the world to brave the hard-core Palestinian terrorists in the narrow alleys of their lairs and force them to surrender.
Combat in similarly dangerous conditions were underway over the weekend in areas south of Jerusalem – in Bethlehem, the adjacent al Aideh,and al Khadar camps, the small neighboring towns of Beit Sahur and Beit Jala, and the Dehaisha camp further south. In these locations too, Israeli soldiers are fighting doggedly from house to house to force the terrorists give themselves up.
Still to come are the hardcore terrorist concentrations of in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Ramallah, where Yasser Arafat is still confined. Already, Israel’s counter-terror operation in the camps has begun to transform the map from one dotted with Palestinian terrorist hits against Israelis, to one where one terrorist base after another is under close assault.
The Balata, Jenin, Tulkarm and Bethlehem offensives must be viewed as the essential preludes to the battle to come in the Palestinian terrorist hub of Ramallah.
Different tactics will have to be deployed there, in the view of debkafile‘s military experts. Ramallah is Arafat’s key command center on the West Bank. The Palestinian leader’s own compound stands at the heart of a cluster of command centers – his presidential guard, Force-17, the Palestinian police, the hardline, Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the coordinating centers between Arafat’s forces and outside terrorist bodies, such as the Hizballah.
On top of the 15,000 inhabitants crowded into the al Amri and Kalandia refugee camps – south of Ramallah and abutting the northern limits of Jerusalem – there are tens of villages and townships. Some, like Surda to the north, have three or four thousand inhabitants; townships, like el Bireh to the east and Bir Zeit to the north, have between ten and twelve thousand inhabitants each.
Each of these locations houses one or more terrorist command posts. The two refugee camps have one Tanzim-Fatah militia command post apiece, both answering directly to Arafat. West Bank Tanzim commander, Marwan Barghouti maintains his command center at El Bireh, while Col. Tawfiq Tirawi leads the Fatah al Aqsa Brigades and runs Arafat’s liaison operation with Iraqi military intelligence from two places – Ramallah and Surda.
debkafile‘s military analysts examine the broad implications of the Tulkarm victory – not merely in the Israel-Palestinian context, but also for future military tactics in the global war on terror.
A. No regular army has ever tried engaging terrorists by going into their lairs and rooting them out in house-to-house combat. The US Afghan force, based at the Kandahar international airfield and Bagram air base, has refrained from entering Kandahar town to clean out Taliban-al Qaida hideouts, or sent men into the terrorist enclaves located around Kabul the capital. The Russian army in Chechnya has likewise left rebel enclaves alone in some town districts, like Argun, rather than insert troops. The most Russian troops have done to combat the Chechen rebels is to burn the ground under their feet, mowing down street after street.
B. The IDF did not go into the new venture lightly, conscious that the last time any army had dared to invade a Palestinian refugee in the Middle East was in 1970, when the late King Hussein ordered his troops to go into the camp in Amman and break the Palestinian military challenge his throne. Israeli preparations and training for the new strategy were therefore long and arduous. “Operation Root Treatment” was launched on February 28 in the big refugee camp of Balata near the northern West Bank town of Nablus.
At its first try, the Israeli command made two mistakes. One, the armed Palestinian nucleus was not placed under effective siege and, two, service vehicles, such as ambulances, food and supply trucks were allowed through. The wanted Palestinians took advantage of these loopholes to escape the noose – many in ambulances – and take refuge in the Nablus town center.
When Israeli troops finally captured the camp, they found the birds had flown – just as the Americans discovered in Afghanistan. In both cases, the terrorists were able to relocate to fresh bases of assault.
To some extent, Israeli forces profited from the Balata operation. They tested the innovative methods developed over months for flushing out terrorist in built-up areas, without suffering heavy troop casualties. They were able to capture a large, densely populated built up area, populated by 20,000 Palestinians, at a loss of two soldiers killed and 6 wounded.
C. The lessons of Balata were thoroughly assimilated before the Tulkarm operation.
There, the Golani contingents sewed up the refugee camp by a diversionary tactic: they feigned an attack on neighboring Nour Shams camp, driving the terrorist heavyweights to escape into the next-door Tulkarm camp, where they were quickly surrounded. This time, the Israeli commander cut the camp off from water, electricity and food supplies and kept ambulances out. Ambulances trying to force their way into the camp were shot, even those on the way to evacuate genuine casualties.
On the third day, the Palestinian resistance collapsed. Among the 600 men who surrendered were 50 top commanders and senior terror activists.