No Clear Verdict on Two-Year Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

How come that, notwithstanding Israel’s military might and resources, the Palestinians, after two years of warfare, are still able to buffet the Jewish state with terror and suicide massacres? How do they get away with willfully butchering civilians in the middle of the US-led global assault of terrorism? And why is the score in the conflict even, the confrontation reaching neither a military nor a political resolution.
The simple answer to this unresolved situation is: the determination gap.
Yasser Arafat, undeterred by his many fiascos, has persuaded his people to fight a fanatical, uncompromising war to destroy Israel – and fight to the finish, even at the cost of terrible hardship.
Israel’s leaders, in contrast, have never determined to crush the avowed enemy, namely Arafat and the heads of his terror machine. The Israeli war is essentially one of self-defense and retaliation. In Jerusalem it is seen as the second war of independence.
Ehud Barak, who led the Israeli government when Arafat launched his al Aqsa confrontation two years ago, initiated the doctrine of keeping the score even. The Palestinians consistently claim their struggle erupted spontaneously September 28, 2000, when Ariel Sharon, then leader of the opposition, toured Temple Mount. Barak argues retrospectively that as prime minister he cleverly maneuvered the Palestinian leader into betraying his belligerent intentions. Whatever he says now that he is out of office, Barak will be remembered for leading Israel down the path of indecisiveness against its enemies – and not only the Palestinians.
By forcing the Israeli army’s withdrawal from Lebanon some months earlier, he led Israel into a prolonged standoff with the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah extremists. Most recently, they exploited the absence of Israeli resistance to draw off 15 percent of Israel’s water supply, by diverting the Wazzani River.
That is only a fraction of the price Israel has paid for Barak’s no-win, no-lose policy. In the first year of the Palestinian campaign of terror, Israel’s armed forces were reduced to defensive tactics and forbidden to destroy terrorist strongholds, so that he and his ministers could be plunge undisturbed into Arafat’s drawn-out, circular, phony negotiations tactics at Camp David, Paris, Cairo, Taba and Sharm al-Sheik, while Arafat’s terrorists continued to notch up their terror campaign against Israeli civilians.
The format of the perpetual tie was then established.
During that crucial first year, the Hizballah and its Iranian protectors used the absence of an Israeli military impediment in South Lebanon to quietly built three lines of fortifications running parallel to the Lebanese-Israel border from the Mediterranean east to the Hermon peaks and the Syrian border. These lines are manned by forward units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and bristle with some 8,000 missiles of different types, capable of hitting points like Hadera and Caesaria that are situated between Haifa and Tel Aviv.
While the Barak team was bent on its quest for “political horizons”, the Hizballah, al Qaeda, and Iraq’s military intelligence thrust clandestine shoots deep into the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Israeli’s Arab community.
The damage to Israel’s strategic wellbeing is surfacing only now.
The Negev town of Sderot was hit this week by Qasam rockets manufactured in and fired from the Gaza Strip; Israel tanks are being blown up with new, custom-made explosive devices; extra-powerful bombs blasting buses inflict more and more casualties.
In February 2001, the desperate electorate jettisoned Labor’s Barak and chose Likud leader Ariel as its great white hope for recovering lost ground, in the two ways he was reputed to know best:
1. As a vastly experienced fighter against Palestinian terrorists, he was expected to eradicate Arafat’s campaign of violence.
2. As a seasoned military leader, he was mandated to break the lethal tie locking in the Israel-Palestinian contest by leading the IDF to victory.
As it turned out, Prime minister Sharon has met neither expectation.
debkafile offers here an interim summing up of Sharon’s gains and losses in his 19 months in office:
Strategic gains:
— He turned the 1993 Oslo Peace Framework accords into a dead letter.
— He shook Yasser Arafat’s infallibility as sole Palestinian leader and undermined his international standing.
— He snapped the conduit Arafat and the Palestinian Authority had maintained with Washington.
— He undid the Palestinian Authority as the sole central government for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
— He seriously reduced the Fatah and its Tanzim militia.
— He broke up the Palestinian security and intelligence arms, including Jibril Rajoub’s preventive security service and Muhammed al-Hindi’s general security service.
— He wiped out the West Bank terrorist strongholds of the Tanzim, Force 17, the Hamas and the Jihad Islami.
— It is a little known fact that the IDF smashed al Qaeda bases and an important Hizballah center on the West Bank in the course of the decisive battle it fought in the Jenin refugee camp on April 13, 2002.
Diplomatic gains:
— He forged an exceptionally harmonious political and military partnership between Jerusalem and Washington and a high degree of understanding with the Oval Office.
— He deactivated Arafat’s deep and massive support in the European community and extinguished the EU’s tireless attempts to force on Israel arrangements contrary to its interests, like imported international peacekeepers.
— He stripped Arafat of unquestioning support from Cairo.
— He removed the Saudi peace plan from the international agenda, exposing it as a PR exercise that did not spring from the brain of the peace campaigner Crown Prince Abdullah but from the offices of two Washington DC public relations firms.
— He succeeded in dwarfing Likud’s traditional rival, Labor, and its ultra-left allies as a dominant political force. He has also sidelined for the time being Binyamin Netanyahu his predecessor as Likud prime minister and foremost challenger.
The Palestinian front: Yasser Arafat still calls the shots in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Palestinian communities elsewhere. Sharon missed four opportunities for bringing about his final exit: First, when he took office in March 2001; second, after the Tel Aviv disco teenage massacre in June 2001; third, after the Passover murders at the Park Hotel, Netanya, in March 2002; fourth, after the Hebrew University, Mount Scopus attack in August 2002, when five Americans lost their lives.
Until now, Sharon consistently drew back from inflicting the death blow on the Palestinian terrorist high command and the Fatah suicide arm, the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. This command is made up essentially of Col. Tawfiq Tirawi and the 19 men now enclosed in Arafat’s government complex in Ramllah and standing up to Israel’s demand for their surrender. One consequence of leaving them at liberty until now was to effectively grant the Iraqi military intelligence cells operating under the al Aqsa Brigades umbrella full license. It is no wonder that Palestinian terrorism continues unabated however much steel Sharon piles on the lower ranks.
Sharon has moreover, repeatedly deferred a long-planned large-scale operation to break up terror bases in the Gaza Strip; therefore the Hamas, its military wing the Ezz a-Din el Qassam and the Jihad Islami are still off the leash.
Finally, Sharon has never come to grips with the Hizballah’s cross-border threat from Lebanon, nor taken action against the Palestinian Fronts and Islamic groups based in Damascus.
The domestic front:
Israel Arabs: Israel’s million strong Arabs are increasingly attracted to the Palestinian terrorist movement and to external violent elements like al Qaeda and the Hizballah. Some of the younger, unrulier elements are being drawn into the anti-Israel suicide campaign.
Domestic politics: While unchallenged as party leader, Sharon’s influence in the ranks is ebbing. He is therefore increasingly dependent on his Labor partner and foreign minister, Shimon Peres – very much as Barak was. Since Peres relies for his political survival on that of his old peace partner, Yasser Arafat, Sharon often finds his own terra less firma than he would like.
Economic leadership: With a wise hand at the helm, Israel’s war-induced economic slowdown might have been far less acute than it is. However, despite the war emergency, Sharon leaves too many decisions on economic management in the hands of a bickering duo – finance minister Sylvan Shalom and governor of the central bank David Klein.
The exercise of balancing Sharon’s achievements against his shortcomings is instructive. It explains why Barak’s standoff in the war with the Palestinians has been perpetuated under Sharon and why some of his key policies lead nowhere.
Take the present impasse.
With the United States preparing to launch itself against Baghdad, Sharon finds he is prevented from bringing the operation he began against Ramallah to its logical conclusion – the breakup at last of Arafat’s high terror command and his possible removal. He is immobilized quite simply by the tab handed him by the Bush administration for long months of support and succor.
The first part of the tab constrains Israel from going after Arafat so as not to upset the fragile Middle East coalition Washington has assembled for the war on Baghdad.
After the full-scale assault on Iraq begins, Israel may pay dearly in the coin of eroded deterrent for the undecided state of play of its conflict with the Palestinians; Iraq may not be put off from launching missiles tipped with unconventional warheads against Israeli cities, knowing that Washington will tender the second half of its tab to Sharon, by making sure Israel does not fight back.

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