Israel Urgently Needs New Counter-Terror Strategy

Ariel Sharon may not realize how fast Yasser Arafat is advancing on his goal of defeating yet another Israeli prime minister, exactly five years after a Palestinian bus-bombing campaign and strike against Tel Aviv’s DizengoffCenter forced Shimon Peres to throw in the towel after only a year as prime minister. Ehud Barak was the next prime minister to resign in mid-term under the pressure of Arafat’s Intifada.
All three refrained from calling a spade a spade, ie naming Arafat a master-terrorist. They were all at pains to adjust to molds fashioned in Washington and in left-wing salons and media at home and abroad. No Israeli leader, left or right, ever ventured to touch the 1993 Oslo Peace framework Accords that Arafat, its Palestinian signatory, began violating on Day One.
Sharon was elected a year ago for his hard line views on defense and military prowess. He was Israel’s great white hope for eradicating the Palestinian terror scourge. However, his performance has been marked by indecision, procrastination, fuzzy messages and lack of perceived leadership in the face of the pressures coming from the unwieldy national unity government he insists on preserving. Sharon has refused to face up tomounting Palestinian belligerence and its expanding support base made up of Iran, Iraq, Hizballah and other militants and Islamic extremists of the Arab world and, latterly, al Qaeda.
The Israeli Defense Forces are widely seen as one of the strongest and most effective armies in the world. Yet its commanders and men are increasingly hamstrung by the lack of firm leadership and the government’s refusal to explicitly name the enemy and let them go to war. The outcome is misconceived strategy and faulty tactics. A soldier out in the field may also find himself out on a limb – hence the missteps and disasters of the last 48 hours.
Tuesday night, February 19, an-eight man combat engineering unit took over a roadblock position on the approach road to the Ramallah district, stranded in an isolated, unpopulated area. An hour later, a group of Palestinian Fatah-Tanzim gunmen crept up and shot six men dead at close range, wounding another. The eighth man survived to fetch help.
The IDF’s retaliatory operation later Tuesday night covered much West Bank and Gaza Strip territory, but did not do much to disarm or deter Palestinian terror. Wednesday, Palestinians approaching to within 300 meters of Israeli army roadblocks were fired upon indiscriminately, a sign of the confusion among Israeli troops.
Wednesday morning, February 20, Israel’s inner security cabinet went into session promising a package of improved counter-terrorist tactics. Before them were the dread statistics of Arafat’s accelerated cycle of terror. Two weeks ago, the Israeli death toll had risen to one a day; in the last six days it has tripled. However, given Sharon’s past performance and the divergent viewpoints of its three members – the prime minister and two Labor ministers, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, defense and Shimon Peres, foreign affairs – no one attached much hope of the forum coming up with any real cure or deterrent.
Confined in Ramallah for nearly three months, the Palestinian leader has yet whipped the various Palestinian groups into a unified command structure for run his terror campaign on quasi-military, sophisticated lines. All its militants have embraced Hamas kamikaze tactics. He is willingly assisted by Iran-backed Lebanese Hizballah terror-guerrilla warfare experts, applying their twenty years of exposure in South Lebanon to Israeli military vulnerabilities. Al Qaeda fugitives, from their safe berth in the Palestinian refugee centers of Lebanon and Syria, are contributing terror methods and materials.
In the last three weeks, the terror command has swept its sights from one group of Israeli targets to the next – from the crowd centers of Israeli towns, to military command centers, then police, and finally soldiers and settlers. Israel’s casualty toll has been ratcheted up at each new stage.
The Sharon government’s weakness has not only encouraged Arafat; it has re-opened the domestic political arena to Israel’s left-wing dissenters and peace campaigners. Discredited by the Palestinian intifada and popular anger at the concessions they made to the Palestinians under the 1993 Oslo Peace Framework accords, they kept their heads down for more than a year. Now, they hope to capitalize on the bleak popular mood, which is sending some affluent Israelis to pack their bags and leave, and are back at their old maneuvers of demonstrations, petitions, anti-IDF litigation, solidarity gestures for Palestinians and hobnobbing with their leaders, including terror masterminds.
These groups enjoy active and material support from likeminded backers in Germany, France, the UK, Scandinavia and other places.
Two petitions making waves come from former security circles: a group of reserve officers objecting to service in Palestinian-ruled areas and another, made up of former high army and security service officers demanding Israel’s unilateral withdrawal to pre-1967 war lines. Israel’s High Court, which traditionally flexes its muscles at times of weak government, Tuesday interfered in the IDF operation to clear the Gaza Strip route, on which three Israelis died in ambush the night before, of buildings and homes serving as Palestinian firing positions. A temporary injunction halted the military bulldozers in their tracks at the request of a group of Gazan residents and Israeli Arab Knesset member Mohamed Barakeh.
Most of the judges on the High Court bench have shown sympathy for the peace campaigners in their past rulings.
The peaceniks are a minority – some say a fringe. Yet their campaign, faithfully recorded by
domestic and international media, has stirred up a vortex of national disputation, fueling Palestinian hopes of Israel’s impending social integration and lending fresh vigor to their campaign of violence.
The cure is in Sharon’s hands. To apply it, he must first break away from his predecessors’ immobilizing constraints and bring his lingering duel with Yasser Arafat to closure, before his hold on power is eroded.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email