Sharon Now Wants to Delay Gaza Pullout

Prime minister Ariel Sharon could no longer ignore the fact that nothing is ready for the July 20 evacuation of 9,000 Israeli men, women and children from the Gaza Strip and N. West Bank. That is what decided him to consider a month’s delay – rather than sudden sensitivity to the date falling during the traditional three-week mourning period for the destruction of the ancient Jewish Temples.
By coming forward with advice from rabbis that Jews are forbidden to move house in this mourning period which ends on 9th of Av (August 14), disengagement authority chief Yonatan Bassi gave his boss the perfect face-saving pretext for a decision that could no longer be avoided. The special cabinet session that Sharon has called for Tuesday, April 19, to confirm the one month’s delay cannot blink away the many obstacles to the pullback.
In setting the date, Sharon bit off more than he could chew.
In the last week of March, the Knesset’s enacted the 2005 state budget including the IS.7-9bn (app $2 bn). That left a scant four months for the monumental tasks of preparing the relocation of thousands of evacuees – some unwilling – in homes, jobs, businesses and schools. In the last week, meanwhile, the partial lull in terrorist operations dating from February is crumbling fast. Monday, April 18, 4 Israeli soldiers were injured in two separate Palestinian attacks: a gunman opened fire at A-Ram checkpoint north of Jerusalem injuring two soldiers seriously, one a girl. Two more soldiers were wounded, one seriously, by sniper fire on Philadelphi border with Egypt.
According to a communique from Israel’s high military command covering the last few days, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired eight mortar rounds at Israeli targets, injured three Israeli troops in nine sniper attacks and planted 7 explosive devices that were dismantled. The Palestinian force that Abbas “deployed” in the Gaza Strip when he took over melted away when the first mortar and missile firings were heard.
Furthermore, the post-disengagement arrangements charted with Egypt to secure the Philadelphi border strip and control the massive arms smuggling traffic from Sinai have fallen apart. Then, too, coordination with the Palestinians is a fading prospect. Mahmoud Abba poses hefty prior stipulations and the radical jihadists Hamas’ will not play along as they expect to oust his Fatah from government and overpower both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
debkafile has consistently reported that there was no way to execute the evacuation on time in view of the scale of the project and the insuperable obstacles in its path.
But for the past weeks, semi-official announcements issued in a flood to drum up the impression that preparations for the withdrawal were racing forward. Israelis were told that discussions now centered on alternative relocation sites – the Nitzanim seafront between Ashkelon and Gaza or Palmachim further north. The army was said to be under orders to disarm the communities in case of armed resistance. Graphic scenarios described how on The Day, unarmed officers would knock on the doors of the homes to be evacuated and politely ask their occupants to remove themselves. If they refused, an armed officer would step up. Resisters would be hauled off by force and pushed onto trucks with their children and possessions. Police and soldiers were repeatedly described as taking special psychological courses to train them for evicting fellow citizens from their homes.
The same false colors were presented by the Palestinians – especially to the American media – on purported reforms underway in the Palestinian Authority under chairman Mahmoud Abbas. He was said to have ordered the reorganization of all security organs under three authorities, made sweeping new appointments and was more than ready for his delayed trip to the White House.
The Israeli and Palestinian processes were supposed to mesh smoothly in the execution of the Israeli pullout.
So what caused Sharon to call for a delay?
1. Three months before the pullback date, no IDF or police command is ready for its task. Maybe after the Passover festival, they will get down to preparations. The first serious conference of the top security brass to work out a plan, splashed in headlines as a war game, took place Sunday, April 16. Most of its participants admitted they were short of information for proper planning.
2. A meeting last week between Bassi and representatives of communities to be removed degenerated into a confrontation when the government official had no answers to concrete questions such as: Where will we sleep the day after? Where will the children go to school? What about the pupils caught in mid-matriculation exams? Who will take care of 100,000 flowers grown to order for overseas buyers, and what will happen to our farms? Who will give me a job at 48?
3. The sheer logistics of the project are awesome. Does Israel have the fleets of vehicles needed to transport thousands of evacuees, their possessions and equipment and simultaneously deploy thousands of police and troops for removals, evictions, security and possibly also fighting off terrorist attacks?
4. The budget allocated for the project may fall short. In any case, some economists predict it will generate a fresh economic slowdown that will extinguish the first signs of recovery from the deep reversals incurred in the four and-a-half year Palestinian terror war.
Hopes of US assistance were dashed a week ago during the prime minister’s talks with the US president and other officials.
As for the Palestinians, Abbas’ claim that 1,000 former terrorists had applied for jobs with the new security forces “and opted for peace” was refuted this week when a Hamas spokesman declared that none of its members had any intention of joining Palestinian security services. Both Hamas and Fatah, each out of respective considerations of political expediency, are threatening to revive rival violent campaigns against Israel. Some debkafile military sources estimate that they have put the date for ending the partial lull forward from June to May – or even earlier.
Some officers of the Israeli high command and intelligence community who spoke on condition of anonymity told debkafile that, because of events on the ground, the pull-back plan is careening out of control “like a vehicle without a steering wheel, compass or brakes.” Because of the one-sided nature of the withdrawal, there is no one responsible to take over. The door will stand wide open for the Hamas and Hizballah with its Iranian backers to move into the Gaza Strip – and then the West Bank – to fill the space Israeli is leaving empty and unsecured.
Under Sharon’s style of government, there are no competent military officers or senior tacticians willing to risk their jobs by speaking out openly on these matters. Outgoing chief of staff Lt.-Gen Moshe Yaalon was sacked for speaking his mind.
It is hard to predict how matters will develop in the latter half of August, the next presumed date for the delayed pull-back. Perhaps the cabinet meeting to approve the first delay might consider extending it. There are less than two months between the 9th of Av and the Jewish High Holidays of Yom Kippur and the New Year.

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