Palestinian Rockets Catch Israel Off Guard

Israel’s policy-makers and military tacticians both came badly out of the first round of Palestinian rocket warfare. Notwithstanding the generals’ claim that the armed forces were ready for this acute upturn in Palestinian violence, their deployment has been slow and unwieldy in the face of the new threat.
Sunday, February 10, Palestinian rockets were fired from Gaza at the small south Israeli town of Sderot and the West Negev Kibbutz Saad – and maybe other villages in the remote, sparsely populated Negev Gate Local Council district. Israel responded with three massive bombing raids of Gaza – a tactic without the slightest chance of stemming the rocket attacks.
Sunday night and Monday, February 11, Israeli units raided the Balata refugee camp of the West Bank town of Nablus, following an intelligence tip that a quantity of rockets and launchers had been made ready for firing at north West Bank settlements. They would have been the first to be launched from theWest Bank. However, the Israeli force failed to locate the rocket site and, 12 hours after it was gone, the Palestinians brought out the rockets and turned them against a target more strategic than any settlement – the Horon Camp command base of the IDF’s Samariah Regiment.
By chance, the rocket – or rockets – exploded upon launch, most likely killing the crew.
Palestinian spokesmen hurried to deny the report to stave off the harsh reprisals Israeli government leaders threatened in the wake of rocket firings from the West Bank.
However, the fact that the Palestinians were preparing to assault a major Israeli military installation, less than two days after suicide gunmen went on a shooting rampage outside the IDF’s southern command in Beersheba, signals an expansion of the Palestinian war. Today they are capable of simultaneously terrorizing civilians and hitting key military targets from a distance.
In essence, the new Palestinian tactic nullifies a reported Israeli plan for withstanding rocket warfare. This plan hinges on the reoccupation of a security zone inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip, deep enough to place Israel’s population centers outside the range of the Qasem rockets. By targeting an IDF command center, the Palestinians have proved they have a weapon mobile enough to render any projected security zone ineffective.
The escalation of Palestinian attacks this week signifies:
A. Intensified Palestinian combativeness, meaning Israel’s armed forces have yet to come up with an adequate disincentive and a convincing response to the upsurge in terrorism
Tuesday night and Wednesday morning the IDF carried out a major operation in the north Gaza Strip locations of Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun and Deir al Balach. Backed by tanks, troops searched for rockets, mortars and launchers, a hopeless task in a Palestinian population of 180,00. The force stayed on Wednesday morning in Beit Hanoun in the hope of preventing further rocket firings on Sderot and the southern environs of the Mediterranean town of Ashkelon. But there is a limit to its stay in the Palestinian township and nothing to stop the rockets flying after it withdraws.
B. Palestinian ability, with a small number of suicide terrorists and a couple of rockets, to hold the town of Beersheba to siege. The task of breaking their spirit and sense of victory is up to the Sharon government.
An alternative to these options was put forward by the dovish Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres in the form of a new plan he hammered out with the Palestinian legislature’s speaker, Ahmed Qureia, known better as AbuAla.
That plan has proved a non-starter on both sides of the conflict.
debkafile‘s Palestinian sources state firmly that Yasser Arafat refuses to hear of the Peres-Abu Ala Plan, or its authors. The blueprint was also turned down by Peres’s Labor party colleagues and would be thrown out by the government if it were presented.
Israel’s doves and European diplomats are nonethelessl working hard to exculpate Arafat from responsibility for the spiraling terror offensive. In their latest maneuver, they are spreading word that Arafat’s authority has broken down and Palestinian extremists are running the new offensive on their own. This assessment is claimed to come from “senior Israeli defense sources”.
Nothing is further from the truth, according to all the security sources debkafile canvassed on Tuesday, February 12. Without explicit orders from the Palestinian leader, heavy weaponry such as the Qasam rockets, could not have been withdrawn from clandestine armories he has been steadily stockpiling, ever since he signed the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, in blatant violation of all his pledges under those accords.
Arafat gave charge of those smuggled arms stores to Muhamed Dahlan, head of the Palestinian preventive security service in the Gaza Strip, who would have handed the rockets out to the Hamas only on instructions from his boss, including the time and place for launching.
Sensing the violent currents swirling around Ramallah, the Palestinian moderate, Sari Nusseibeh, is reported by debkafile to have tendered his resignation Tuesday morning as Minister for Jerusalem Affairs in the Palestinian Authority. He landed this bombshell, according to his close confidants, under the pressure of threats from the “Palestinian street” for his willingness to negotiate terms for ending the conflict with Israel, leaving aside the 1948 refugees issue.
While Arafat is going through the motions of refusing to accept Nusseibeh’s resignation, the Europeans who pinned high hopes on the Jerusalem professor are smarting. Nusseibeh may eventually be persuaded to stay at his post, but Arafat is busy making sure that he, AbuAla and any other moderate Palestinian leader willing to lay down arms and talk terms with Israel, are left out in the cold.
The quarrel between Arafat and the West Bank preventive security chief Jibril Rajoub – whether or not the Palestinian leader waved a gun or slapped him – was serious and broke out on the same day as the Nusseibeh crisis. Rajoub wants to disband the Fatah’s military arm, the al Aqsa Brigades which, under the command of his rival Col. Tawfiq Tirawi, is one of the sharpest blades of the Palestinian terrorist machine. Arafat’s extreme stand against Rajoub for advocating the dilution of terrorism and his strong defense of a key terror activator and chief liaison with Baghdad, clearly signal where the Palestinian leader is heading. Along the way, Arafat will not allow the slightest sounds of moderation to issue from top Palestinian ranks.

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