Sharon’s Plan Presages “Little Iraq” in Gaza Strip and West Bank
Sunday, April 18, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon formally presents to the Israeli cabinet the letters exchanged between him and President George W. Bush Wednesday, April 14 that approve some key clauses of his disengagement plan.
Sharon accepts that right-wing ministers may walk out of his government; he is not sure either that his Likud party will vote in favor of his blueprint on May 2. But he has been buoyed up by the praise heaped on him at the Bush-Blair summit Friday, April 16, in Washington. Both hailed his project in warm terms as an important opportunity and called on Palestinians and “the international community” to rise to the occasion. Bush lauded Sharon’s bold initiative. Even the British premier, upon is return home Saturday, April 17, faced down the sour comments of his own Labor members and European Union functionaries by declaring the Sharon initiative had breathed new life into the road map.
According to debkafile‘s political analysts, the US and British leaders suddenly developed their enthusiasm for the Sharon plan when they saw it is mostly about withdrawal, not really unilateral and contains only a marginal disengagement quotient. It looked very much like an opportunity to transpose a version of the Iraqi coalition into the Palestinian-Israeli sphere.
This transposition, as put to him by the British prime minister, convinced the US president to drop his objections to the Sharon plan and embrace it in an epic U-turn. The Iraq analogy, rather than concern for Sharon’s political survival, was behind his two affirmations, for the first time by any US president, that “major population centers” on the West Bank have created new realities, and that the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem must be in a Palestinian state rather than Israel.
Neither Bush nor Blair minds Sharon capitalizing on their support for gains at home. Even the Likud poll is useful for concentrating Israeli and Palestinian minds until it is too late to change certain facts. Hence Sharon’s blitz campaign to get as much as possible done before people wake up.
The appearance of a breakthrough (Bush, not quite accurately: Sharon is the first Israeli prime minister to withdraw settlements and accept a Palestinian state) is also well-timed for the current state of play in Iraq. The US and British leaders have every hope of soon winning through against the radical Shiite revolt and the Sunni insurgency backed by Arab and al Qaeda combatants in Fallujah. However, for the present, their Iraq predicament is still oscillating between success, failure and a midway point that could produce unforeseen results across round the volatile country.
While labeled as go-it-alone, Sharon’s initiative goes down well as a branch of the Iraqi front. Television footage of fierce clashes, suicide bomb blasts, tank assaults and smoke-wreathed hotels in Iraq is increasingly indistinguishable from the images of the Israel-Palestinian front. In the near future, their frequency and intensity may well escalate in both hotspots.
From Clause I. Overview:
Israel believes that it must act to improve the current reality. Israel has come to the conclusion that at present there is no Palestinian partner with whom it is possible to make progress on a bilateral agreement. In light of this, a unilateral disengagement plan has been formulated, which is base on the following considerations:
A. The stagnation inherent in the current situation is harmful. In order to emerge from this stagnation, Israeli must initiate a move that will not be contingent on Palestinian cooperation.
B. The plan will lead to a better security reality, at least in the long term.
By endorsing the plan, Bush has bought Israel’s argument that it has no Palestinian negotiating partner at present. However, the British prime minister has convinced the US president and Israel that a partner can be constructed to fill the empty seat at the negotiating table – again according to the Iraq model.
Clause V. The nature of military aid to the Palestinians.
Israel agrees that in coordination with it, advice, aid and instruction will be given to Palestinian security forces for the purpose of fighting terror and maintaining public order by American, British, Egyptian, Jordanian and other experts, as will be agreed upon by Israel.
Translated into practical terms, this means that Jordanian security forces, supervised by British intelligence agents, will be responsible for West Bank security by means of Palestinian units they have trained. Egyptian officers and intelligence operatives will be in charge of the Gaza Strip and function under the supervision of US and British intelligence
This and other key clauses strongly suggest the way Iraq has been divided up between US and British zones.
Clause XII. The international crossing points.
A.The international crossing point between the Gaza Strip and Egypt:
1. The existing arrangements will remain in force.
B. the international crossing points between Judea and Samaria, and Jordan. The existing arrangements will remain in force.
debkafile‘s Washington sources report that these arrangements and certain adjustments came up during Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s talks with Bush last week. The upshot was an Egyptian pledge of 400 intelligence and security officers for the Gaza Strip of the plan goes through.
This force will in fact be much more than a team of instructors. Operating under the CIA and MI6, it will act as the command structure of a Palestinian force set up by former Gaza preventive security chief Mohammed Dahlan. It tasks will be chiefly to prevent the Hamas, the Jihad Islami, the Fatah-al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees from engaging in terrorism.
This internal Gaza Strip structure will depend for intelligence and logistical backup on an Israeli security envelope as detailed in two clauses.
From Clause II. Main points of the plan.
A. The Gaza Strip. 1. Israel will evacuate the Gaza Strip, including all the Israeli settlements currently existing there, and will redeploy outside the territory of the Strip.
B. Judea and Samaria.
1. Israel will evacuate the area of northern Samaria (Ganim, Kadim, Homesh and Sa-Nur) and all the permanent military installations in this area, and will redeploy outside the evacuated area.
From Clause III: Security reality after the evacuation.
A. The Gaza Strip.
1. Israel will supervise and guard the external envelope on land, will maintain exclusive control in the air space of Gaza, and will continue to conduct military activities in the sea space of the Gaza Strip.
In other words, in the Gaza Strip, Israel will retain control of exactly the same strategic points as it does today. The two clauses guarantee Israeli intelligence and logistical backup for the forces operating within evacuated Palestinian territory. The Sharon plan provides the extra space required for this military support and for logistics bases in the next claus.
Clause VI. The border area between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
During the first stage, Israel will continue to maintain a military presence along the border line between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (“Philadelphi Route”). This presence is an essential security need, and in certain places, it is possible that there will be a need for the physical enlargement of the area in which the military activity will be carried out.
Although the Gush Katif settlement bloc is to be removed, therefore the broadening of the Philadelphi Route will entail the extension of Israel control into further parts of the Rafah region, presumably with Egyptian consent.
After the security situation stabilizes in the Gaza Strip, meaning after Dahlan cements his hold on the territory, the second part of this clause can go into effect:
If and when conditions emerge for the evacuation of this area, Israel will be prepared to examine the possibility of establishing a seaport and an airport in the Gaza Strip, subject to arrangements that will be determined with Israel.
Here again we see in action the Bush administration’s Iraqi mode of operation: the construction of Iraqi military and intelligence mechanisms who will combat the Baathist, Sunni and radical Shiite insurgents and their al Qaeda henchmen enclosed within an American envelope which supplies firepower, air and sea forces and intelligence and logistical backup.
However, this formula was shattered during the curret round of warfare in Iraq. Too many Iraqis recruited to the post-Saddam forces refused to fight Iraqi guerrillas. US and British troops were reduced to head on head combat with Sunni and Shiite insurgents and paid a heavy price in casualties. The Americans are now engaged in patching up their Iraqi units.
The Sharon blueprint is still nothing but ink on paper. It is therefore too soon to predict whether the West Bank and Gaza Strip will follow the Iraqi model in the negative sense of Palestinian units trained by Americans, British, Egyptians and Jordanians, turning tail when ordered to fight Hamas or al Aqsa Brigades terrorists. However it would not be surprising if this happened in Ramallah and Gaza City.
The general tone and sense of Sharon’s disengagement plan show the hand of a fighting field commander rather than a politician or statesman. He appears to regard the removal of the 21 Gaza Strip settlements and four more in the northern West Bank as a necessary adjunct of his tactic. He wants to see a flat battlefield free of obstructions.
Similar thinking guided President Bush into accepting the concept of a Shiite enclave for Najef and Karbala under the rule of the four Grand Ayatollahs in which no US military man set may set foot. American military forces would however provide an external security envelope to protect the two Shiite shrine cities.
So why should not Dahlan or whoever succeeds Yasser Arafat in Ramallah be accorded the same political and military environment as the Four Ayatollahs of Iraq? After all, Bush’s Greater Middle East doctrine envisions geographic and ethnic border changes, the transfer of populations and territorial swaps as movable props. His reference to the 1949 Armistice lines fits into his modular perception of the region, its peoples and boundaries.
But the Bush vision of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel is as far away as ever. And even the interim measure of a Little Iraq in Palestinian areas is no less fraught than the bloody road to a peaceful Iraq. But it looks like stumbling forward nonetheless.