Was This Huge Army Really Necessary?

Wednesday, August 17, was the first day the 8,500 Jewish inhabitants of the Gaza Strip faced forcible expulsion from their homes and the dismantling of their communities. On that day too, the massed divisions of troops and police officers quickly saw that there were too many of them for the task ahead. The uniformed men had braced for violent resistance. Instead they were greeted with prayers, laments, outpourings of bitter outrage and chorused recitations of Psalms.
The soldiers must have asked themselves: What happened to the “violent extremists,” the loonies they had been taught for more than a year to confront? And why were 40,000 combat troops called up to evict a few thousand civilians, half children, who had clearly no plans of physical resistance?
Police commissioner Moshe Karadi confessed his surprise at the sparse violence in most places. If the present pace is sustained, this part of the operation could be over much sooner than expected and with a lot less pain.
Government spokesmen claim that the day went a lot more smoothly than expected – some two thirds of all the evacuee families were removed – because the evacuees had been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of troops and therefore went quietly.
This argument does not wash. All the communities evacuated Wednesday (aside form Kfar Darom and Gadid which have been left till later) were ready for the troops with Torah Scrolls, hugs and children in their parents’ arms, which hardly fitted their portrayal as a dangerous enemy.
Leading American and British television stations, after spending a fortune to send out large teams and satellite stations for live coverage of Israel’s voluntary expulsion of its own citizens from their homes, were puzzled. Where’s the action? they wanted to know.
Furthermore, according to any military textbook, no large-scale army is sent out on a mission without prior intelligence-gathering as to the size and strength of the target, and its preparations for defense and attack. But this part of Operation Evacuation seems to have been skipped. Otherwise, the high command would have understood that the force they had mustered was twice too large and sent several thousand home. They wouldhave saved millions of taxpayer shekels and avoided the false high noon drama of disproportionately large wedges of uniformed men pouring into civilian sites in the hottest week of the year.
There are three possible motives behind the decision to deploy excessive force:
1. The IDF is ignorant of civilian life, especially in Gush Katif – an illogical assumption.
2. Poor intelligence – impossible since the soldiers have been living and operating in the enclave 365 days a year and are familiar with every home and grain of sand.
3. This leaves the third premise, that the operation’s military planners were under orders from their superiors to deploy a colossal force for reasons of their own. Chief of staff Lt. Gen Dan Halutz and police commissioner Moshe Karadi take their orders directly from the prime minister Ariel Sharon and defense minister Shaul Mofaz. The question therefore, is what game were they playing?
There are two hypotheses:
One,As a veteran general, Sharon is accustomed to commanding large bodies of men. In his mind, Gush Katif was no different from any other front.
Two,Or else, the political campaign to discredit and demonize the substantial opposition to the prime minister’s evacuation plans was best served by inflating the size of the force required to handle it.
The local media played a key role here. Day and night, they harped on the grave menace posed by so-called right-wing extremists to elected government, senior officials including Sharon and democracy at large. The threat was built up to monstrous proportions. Nothing less than full mobilization would have served to match it. To pursue this tactic, prime minister used the armed forces as a political instrument rather than for their dedicated mission of defending the nation against its enemies. Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice played into his hands by declaring the IDF’s mission was to defend democracy, which in fact was not threatened.
This bubble burst in full sight of every Israeli television viewer watching the evacuations on Wednesday at 11 am local time. They saw a group of battle-hardened soldiers and police outside the Neve Dekalim synagogue lined up opposite a thin chain of youths holding aloft a Torah Scroll and rhythmically chanting their belief in God. The boys wept, and with them the troops and a rapt nation. At that moment, the chants and tears mingled to touch a deep chord of shared atavistic knowledge that together they all belonged to a very ancient people that has survived many calamities and tragedies but always rebuilt itself anew.

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