Israeli Intelligence Chief: Disengagement Holds Perils
The two Lahava Hill outpost’s mobile homes adjoining Yitzhar near the West Bank Palestinian town of Nablus were not chosen for evacuation Monday, January 3, on the spur of the moment.
debkafile‘s political sources report that the time and place were selected and prepared days in advance by prime minister Ariel Sharon. He ordered defense minister Shaul Mofaz to carry out the engagement as an object lesson for those who would resist his plan to remove 21 Gaza Strip settlements and four in the northern West Bank starting July.
Tuesday, December 4, Sharon received the most explicit warning so far of the perils inherent in his evacuation plan from Israeli Shin Beit intelligence director Avi Dichter, one of the few counter-terrorist executives anywhere with a proven success record.
In his annual report to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Dichter pointed out that for Israel to withdraw from the Philadelphi route that follows the border with Egypt made no security sense. Without an Israeli military presence there – even if Egypt takes over – Gaza-based Palestinian terrorists will transform southern Israel into a second South Lebanon.
He added that handing the northern West Bank to Palestinian control would be a recipe for converting that sector into a second Gaza Strip. The intelligence chief also warned against pinning hopes for change on the Palestinian election next Sunday, January 9. Palestinian-controlled territory, he said, would continue to serve as a terrorist haven.
The Dichter report came on top of the caution from various quarters that a willingness to defy eviction orders was spreading in the armed forces.
Nonetheless, the prime minister is careening ahead with his plan.
He used the Lahava Hill clash as an opportunity for some muscle-flexing. It was also exploited to good effect by the opposition, the most extreme faction of the settler movement.
For the 100 inhabitants of Yitzhar and Lahava Hill belong to a small hard-line, maverick group, whose views are close to the outlawed extreme right-wing Kach. They regard the mainstream Yesha Settlers Council’s campaign tactics with contempt as too timid and go their own way. Sharon knew he could count on them for some spectacular, attention-grabbing rough and tumble before the hundreds of elite paratroops and Border Guard police recruited for the purpose were able to smash the two caravans.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, the Yesha Council organized a two-week sit-in protest outside the Knesset to protest the coming evacuations. They handed out disks with recordings of speeches Sharon delivered in 1995 as opposition leader in which he called on settlers to resist eviction. Yesha leaders argued once again that if Sharon’s pullout plans are approved by a popular majority, whether by referendum or general election, they will confirm with the voter’s will.
The Yitzhar clash had some immediate consequences:
It promoted the extremist settler element to the forefront of the settlers’ campaign against disengagement, for one. For another, it stole the thunder of the more moderate settlers’ protest.
There was no pressing need to target the two caravans out of the dozens of large and small outposts scattered around the West Bank. debkafile‘s Washington sources reported on December 16 that President George W. Bush had acceded to Sharon’s request to take the heat out of the outpost issue, the better to focus on disengagement and the far more challenging withdrawal of permanent Jewish locations. It was understood that the Israeli government would not let the settlers exploit the lull to throw up new outposts. The Yitzhar settlers knew about this arrangement. They set up their caravans as a deliberate provocation.
The violence of the clash and the interference of a soldier home on leave in Yitzhar were greeted by local media with the catchy headline: “Pullout defiance in the army has begun.” This is a gross exaggeration. The soldier yelled to his comrades to disobey orders to evict his neighbors. No one listened to him and he was hauled off and handed over to the military police.
After it was over, with no one hurt and 15 arrests, senior defense sources told debkafile that Sharon had staged this test of strength from a sense that if he does not break the will of the settlers now, it will be too late. This sense of urgency is heightened by the spreading number of potential dissidents in the army. Both manifestations combine in his mind as a hazard to the cohesion of the Jewish state. He fears the country will be sundered by the dispute and end up with two governing authorities instead of one: the prime minister and IDF command on the one side and the settlers backed by mutinous military elements, on the other.
This terrible price is not deterring Sharon from resorting to every means to force his disengagement scheme through; on the contrary, he is more determined than ever to bring it to fruition whatever the cost. Soldiers who disobey orders will be prosecuted and punished, he declared. In an interview to the New York Times, he said that if his government fails to gain a majority this week, he may have to call an early election. But even then he will not abandon his plans for evacuating the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
Stripped of the parties opposing his plan, Sharon heads a minority government of one party, his Likud – which too is divided against him. Negotiations for a new cabinet drag on. Labor is waiting impatiently in the wings for the United Torah party to decide whether or not it will join a new government committed to evacuating settlements. Labor leader Shimon Peres keeps on saying: if there is no disengagement, there will be no Israel. Sharon’s hands are bound by the lack of a parliamentary majority to enact evacuation/compensation legislation without which he has no mandate to go ahead.
Palestinians terrorists in the Gaza Strip are enjoying a field day, taking full advantage of the Israeli government’s intense preoccupation with the obstacles to Sharon’s pullback plans and his commitment not to damage Mahmoud Abbas’s campaign for election as Palestinian Authority chairman next Sunday. Two IDF operations to stem Palestinian missile-mortar blitz from Gaza on both sides of the border were cut short last week leading to a further escalation of Palestinian violence.
Abbas is catering to the terrorists to persuade them not to boycott him or engage in Iraq-style sabotage of the vote.
Shin Beit director Dichter believes that whoever wins the Palestinian election will not have the strength or will to dismantle the terrorist groups.
But Ariel Sharon has cast his own fate and that of the country, its democratic institutions, war or peace with the Palestinians, Israel’s international standing, and the cohesion of its society and armed forces on the single throw of disengagement.