Israel’s Generals Devise a Seven-Ring Military Gambit
Prime minister Ariel Sharon, a veteran general, translated his decision to separate 10,000 unwilling Israelis and their families from their homes and means of livelihood into military terms. That was the only way he could hope to pull it off. A unique military operation was the result, one that has reduced to tactical military terms the problem of relocating several communities amid weighty imponderables before and after the August 17 pull-back from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank
One such imponderable is the degree of resistance the evacuees will put up; another, the strength of Palestinian terrorist aggression.
The Israel high command’s answers to these unknown impediments are precision planning and overkill; 41,000 Israeli combat troops on the ground – 12-18,000 for the actual evacuations of the 24 communities in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank; 23,000 to secure the withdrawals from hostile attack.
More uniforms will be piled on to deal with a third factor: the threat by the national anti-evacuation movement to muster 100,000 activists to abort the pull-back. They will start marching on July 18. The armed forces have therefore called up 17 reserve battalions, the police border guards have enlisted all their reserves – 7,500 fighters trained in counter-terror warfare – and the army, police and security services are all on full preparedness.
It is worth noting that never in Israel’s 57 years have its armed forces been put on maximum preparedness and its reserves called up for any contingency but the threat of war against the Jewish state.
Even a large-scale operation like the April 2002 Defensive Shield against Palestinian terrorist strongholds, in which the IDF retook all the West Bank’s Palestinian towns, was fought by less than half the strength raised to shift Israelis out of the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s exclusive military sources reveal some of the unpublished features of the innovative operation Sharon, defense minister Shaul Mofaz and chief of staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz have devised.
N. West Bank pullout will precede Gaza
Because of the resistance already building up for action, OC Israel’s Southern Command Maj.Gen. Dan Harel and OC Central Command Maj. Gen Yair Nave are expected to bring forward to next week the closure of the evacuation areas in both regions. Only special permit-holders will be allowed to enter. Local road traffic between the communities will also be restricted.
The release of these orders will mark the onset of the evacuation operation.
Contrary to most expectations, it will start on the West Bank – not the Gaza Strip. The planners have decided to get this part of the process out of the way first.
Most of the residents have left voluntarily but Sanur, located in the Sanur Valley north of Nablus and east of Tulkarm (See attached map) is considered a tough nut to crack. Squatting in the vacant homes are 200 hard-line anti-evacuation activists gathered in from across the West Bank and Israeli cities. The army estimates that even if the army closes the region off, between 15,000 and 20,000 activists will defeat the roadblocks by wending their way on foot across the hills and fields of the northern West Bank (Samaria) and barricade themselves at Sanur. The estimate is based on intelligence surveillance of the preparations going forward there. The troops intend to form a tight circle around this bastion of resistance.
The chief of staff and regional commanders who will command the operation foresee five major hurdles ahead of the evacuation operation at large:
1. All the troops mobilized for the removal of tens of thousands of people – upward of 20,000 – will be taxed to the limit.
2. They will be confronted with both active and passive resistance. But they must also prepare for extreme acts like the torching of areas they must traverse, collective self-immolation by protesters, or even shooting attacks by a small number of radical hotheads.
3. A Palestinian attack to the rear of the Israel troop concentrations engaged in removing evacuees could also target the tens of thousands of massed protesters. Palestinian assailants might also steal into the evacuation sectors by way of the same tortuous routes used by the protesters.
A seven-ring deployment
4. Instead of striking at the operation at close range and sustaining heavy casualties, Palestinian terrorists may opt to aim mortar and missile fire from the West Bank across the Green line against the towns of central Israel. They could target small places like Afula or Hadera (See map) or major strategic locations like Jerusalem. The latest intelligence reports reaching the IDF indicate that the Palestinians are gearing up for attacks of this nature in Jenin, Qalqilya and even Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government which lies just north of Jerusalem.
5. The Hizballah may open a second front from Lebanon targeting northern Israel. The Hizballah team that infiltrated the Mt. Dov at the foot of Mount Hermon last week and sparked several firefights was in fact an intelligence unit believed to have been gathering intelligence on Israel’s military positions ahead of attack.
Israeli security forces plan a seven-ring deployment – the innermost ring enclosing the Sanur center of resistance and the outer perimeter ranged on the Lebanese border ready for the Hizballah.
The core ring will consist of two forces. Force A is made up of soldiers and police officers with the task of emptying one-storey buildings or protesters’ tents of occupants; Force B will consist of elite troops trained in terrorist and urban guerrilla tactics for capturing multi-storey buildings including water towers and public facilities. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that A Force units are assembled at the Tzeelim base north of Beersheba in southern Israel and drilling combined military-police operations for tactics which break new military ground.
The seven rings of military strength are movable rather than concentric. While the core ring bears the eviction mission, most of the others are defensive, deployed both at the scenes of the pull-back and further back and inside Israel.
Two interchangeable commands
For greater flexibility in managing the seven-ring structure, two commands will function interchangeably. This is important because, contrary to the general assumption that the locations will be evacuated one by one, our sources report they will be removed in pairs. If, for instance, Netzarim south of Gaza City is evacuated at the same time as Rafah Yam or Ganei Tal at the southern end of Gush Katif, the operation of two commands will ensure smooth coordination.
Lt.-Gen Halutz wants to begin the operation with the hard-core places, Sanur on the West Bank, and in the Gaza Strip Neve Dekalim at the center of Gush Katif abutting the Palestinian town of Khan Younes and Gadid further south. He believes that once they are cracked, the others will buckle and be more easily overcome.
Other members of the high command hold that starting with the difficult cases will leave the soldiers too drained to carry on with the rest of their mission, the removal of another 18 communities. It has been left to the prime minister to determine which course to take. He has not yet decided.
Sharon is more concerned with the possibility of essential national services being disabled by the anti-evacuation movement while the army and police have their hands full with the evictions. The government is taking into account the possible shutdown of Ben-Gurion international airport. If that happens, military airfields will be opened to civil aviation traffic – unless the air force requires its facilities for military action. But it is also possible that the functioning of Israel’s primary seaports at Haifa and Ashdod, power and water supplies and food distribution will be severely hampered. Lengthy blockages of intercity highways and town thoroughfares would snarl the movement of essential supplies.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report government departments, the army and the police have been handed intelligence estimates of the protest movement’s human resources. It is believed capable of assembling 20,000 to 30,000 supporters in the Gaza Strip and another 15-20,000 at Sanur. An additional 15-25,000 anti-evacuation activists are reported standing by around the country with 5,000 vehicles ready to swing into action when the pull-back begins.
The police are paying particular attention to Jerusalem, the holy places on Temple Mount and other sensitive sites around the country. They will each have their own security detail to prevent unauthorized access. These restrictions will require special emergency regulations.