Cycle of Bloodshed

There is a new rhythm to the terror attacks against Israelis: They are coming in one-two punches, leaving the country staggering.

On Saturday, March 2, a suicide bomber killed 11 people in Jerusalem, and the following morning, a Palestinian sniper killed 10 soldiers and settlers at an army checkpoint in the West Bank. Then on Monday, March 4, a gunman sprayed bullets at a Tel Aviv restaurant, killing three people. The following morning, a bus bomber killed a man in Afula, and a sniper killed a woman driving in the West Bank. On Wednesday, two Israeli soldiers and seven palestinians were killed as the Israeli army retaliated for a Hamas rocket attack Tuesday in the Negev.

These one-two attacks follow blistering Israeli barrages on Palestinian cities and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, which kill 15 or more Palestinians a day. Right-wingers in the Sharon government want to use the full force of Israel’s military superiority to simply devastate the Palestinians, their leaders and the infrastructure of their society — to wage a war of unbridled destruction. The Labor Party, on the other hand, is hinting that it will leave the national unity government if the war continues to escalate with no political solution in sight.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Ariel Sharon repeats that he will not "drag Israel into a full-scale war." Instead he steadily escalates Israel’s military assaults, and the Palestinians do the same.

There are war clouds over Israel. The somberness and tension on the faces of people Tuesday morning after the lethal attacks in Tel Aviv, Afula and outside Jerusalem, were reminiscent of the mood here on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War.

Israel Television military correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai reported that security forces were currently aware of 30 different terrorists on their way to attacks in 30 different spots. Army officials say that since the start of the intifada, about 10 percent of planned attacks have been "successful." The other 90 percent have been foiled by soldiers, police or alert citizens or have gone awry, usually because a bomb failed to explode.

As the saying goes, do the math: Three out of 30 terrorists can kill a lot of people.

Israelis are reeling as terror attacks fall one after the other. People see that the government and the Army, while inflicting massive casualties and damage on the Palestinians, are not providing Israelis more security; the opposite is the case. Israelis want a solution, but they don’t want a solution that smacks of surrender, of suing for peace, because a cowering Israel would be defenseless against a Palestinian nation that smelled fear.

One sign of the unraveling of Israeli composure was seen in the pipe bombing of a Palestinian school in East Jerusalem, in which eight people, mainly students, were lightly injured. An unknown Jewish organization called, "Revenge of the Infants," claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the current situation, talk of "unilateral separation" — of withdrawing from Gaza and most of the West Bank, uprooting some 50,000 settlers and building a fortified border to keep Palestinians from entering Israel — has faded. Likewise, the recent proposal by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah — that Israel give the Palestinians Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in return for Arab recognition of Israel — isn’t being discussed seriously.

Still, few Israelis are prepared to assume control again for 3.5 million Palestinians. A majority favor land-for-peace, but in negotiations where Israel is dealing from a position of strength, or at least equality, not weakness.

Dr. Meil Pa’il, a veteran Israeli peace activist and military historian, proposes that the Army do what the right-wing wants — mop up the Palestinians, make them sue for peace but then negotiate a withdrawal from the territories. But while the current government might go along with the first stage of this plan, it is dead set against the second.

Israel’s gradual reentry into the territories is exactly what Yasser Arafat wants, says Ben-Yishai. Arafat’s strategy is to lure Israel into wreaking havoc in the territories, after which the international community would be compelled to send forces into the West Bank and Gaza to get between the two sides, thereby paving the way for the world to impose the solution it has long favored: a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, with Israel withdrawing its settlers and soldiers from those areas.

Many on the Israeli left would welcome international intervention; they are convinced the Israelis and Palestinians are incapable of settling the conflict, or even containing it, on their own. But neither the United States, NATO or any other Western power is interesting in getting involved in the Israeli-Palestinian war, and the Sharon government is not interested in welcoming them in.

The intifada’s damage to Israel is not only in security. The Finance Ministry says it has cost the Israeli economy some $5 billion — the equivalent of half the annual defense budget, or nearly two years’ worth of U.S. aid.

For the Palestinians part, they see the intifada as their "war of independence," says Palestinian affairs expert Reuven Paz. Their role model, he says, is the Algerians, who ran France out of their country after a seven-year guerrilla war that ended in 1962. The French killed over 200,000 Algerians in that war, while losing some 20,000 French soldiers and civilians. In the 18-month intifada, Israel has killed fewer than 1,000 Palestinians, while losing some 300 soldiers and civilians. The history of modern guerrilla war is a great source of encouragement for the Palestinians and of foreboding for Israel.