Has Israel Lost Its Way in the War on Terror?
After a week’s silence, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert had only this to say Tuesday night, June 20, about the plunging security crisis provoked by the unending Palestinian missile offensive against Israeli civilians: “There is no way in the near future of solving the missile problem,” he said, “And we (Israel) will reach all those committing terrorism against us.”
As he spoke, a failed Israeli air force strike against a Fatah missile crew in Gaza City had two ill-fated consequences: Three Palestinian children were inadvertently killed and the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, whose team escaped unharmed, announced the resumption of full-scale attacks – not just against Israeli civilians unlucky enough to live close to the Gaza Strip, but in all other parts of Israel. The injunction by their leader, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to stop firing at Sderot, fell on characteristically deaf ears.
After two weeks of relentless Palestinian missile and gunfire and attempts to kidnap Israelis, and Israeli targeted attacks on terrorist operatives, the Olmert government has no clue how to handle the crisis. Still worse, the IDF high command seems to be losing its grip on events. As defense minister Amir Peretz issues hollow threats at the rate of one a minute, the prime minister indulges in verbal acrobatics while clinging to three seemingly fixed bars:
1. The “unstoppability” of his realignment plan for the West Bank.
2. His promise to get together with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, which somehow never happens.
3. The boldness of his counter-terror initiatives compared to those of his predecessor, Ariel Sharon. These initiatives, focusing heavily on targeted hits of terrorist operatives, consistently miss their mark because those three fixed bars are illusory; instead of firmly complementing each other as elements of a single coherent, well-thought out policy, they are mutually contradictory or impracticable.
The Olmert plan to unilaterally mark out Israel’s eastern border after realigning the settlement blocs, suffered another two major setbacks Wednesday, June 21: The US-European summit in Vienna came out against any Israeli unilateral steps on the West Bank and advocated negotiations and the road map as the only way forward for the Middle East crisis. In Jerusalem, MK Yossi Bailin, leader of the opposition left-wing party Meretz, stated that the Olmert plan had no chance of majority support in the Knesset because both his faction and the Arab bloc wouldl vote against it.
Olmert, having more than used up his 100 days of grace, cannot afford to lose any more time in getting his act together and deciding which of the following three options best addresses the security crisis:
A. Go back to the starting line and compile a completely new policy program.
B. Place the war on terror at the head of his list of priorities, ahead of realignment or peace talks with the Palestinians. No Israeli leader who sat in the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem in the past has ever been able to avoid a devastating military blow to Palestinian terror as a prerequisite for talks with – and concessions to – the Palestinians. Sharon’s was Operation Defensive Wall in March 2002, in reprisal for the Passover massacre at the Netanya Park Hotel. Olmert will have to carry out his own Operation Defensive Wall to contain Palestinian terror, before he can engage their leaders in diplomacy.
C. Go directly to talks with Abbas, inevitably folding under Palestinian demands which would include acceptance of a Hamas government – by one name or another – and parting with exorbitant concessions, including extensive pullbacks from the West Bank in excess of the 90% which the prime minister has already given away as a free gift.
Israeli’s security crisis under an inexperienced government is compounded by the breakdown of the chief of staff, Lt-Gen. Dan Halutz’s strategic doctrine for fighting terror. In some respects, this failure may be likened to the collapse of Israel’s Bar-Lev line of Suez fortifications in the face of Egypt’s shock offensive in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Tuesday, Olmert was forced to admit that Israel is bankrupt of resources for stamping out the latest round of Palestinian terror. Now as then, the military doctrine, in thrall to political considerations, fails to measure up to changing realities. The theory advanced last year by Israel’s political leaders, most of them still in government, that the air force, fences and electronic devices are enough to secure southern Israel by remote control from outside the Gaza Strip, can no longer be defended.
It has led the country into muddle, contradictory steps and meaningless rhetoric. Palestinian terrorist tacticians are pressing their advantage hard. The Qassam missiles fly day by day in the Negev, together with threats of more extreme action in other parts of Israel.