The Drawbacks of the Proposed Pullback
The targeted killing of Hamas founder Ahmad Yassin and the
“open season” that Israel has declared against Hamas leaders and those of other
Palestinian terrorist organizations must be viewed as part
of a larger Israeli policy designed to achieve a number of objectives.
One of the major objectives is to create more favorable
conditions for Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the
dismantling of the settlements there. The assassination of Yassin was designed
to weaken Hamas over the long-term and was also designed to prevent
Palestinians from coming to the conclusion that Israel was withdrawing under
fire from the Gaza Strip (thanks to the efforts of Hamas and other terrorist
organizations) and thus make it possible to avoid the kind of blow to Israeli
deterrence that occurred in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal from southern
Lebanon in May 2000.
It is highly doubtful, however, that Israel will be able to
enjoy the longer-term benefits of this and future key assassinations should it
implement Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s separation plan. This is because this
anticipated pullback, far from decreasing the number of future terrorist
attacks, will actually increase it.
Sharon’s separation plan is designed to minimize the
financial and human costs involved in maintaining direct Israeli control over
enclaves within heavily populated Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip (and in
some of the West Bank), as well as to provide more easily defensible lines that
can be held by fewer troops.
One of the increasingly serious problems that Israel has
faced over the nearly four years of open conflict with the Palestinians has
been how to maintain troop levels high enough to cope with security threats on
the part of Palestinian terrorists, while, at the same time, not undermining
the system of military reserves from which much of the additional troop
strength is taken.
The fence network already in place in Gaza and being built
in the West Bank includes a sophisticated system of cameras and other high-tech
devices designed to detect movement — thus enabling the Israel Defense Forces
to station fewer troops at fewer points along the fence in order to achieve
what would previously have required far larger deployments.
While the idea of pulling back the Israeli army and
dismantling Israeli settlements located in the heart of Palestinian-populated
areas in the Gaza Strip is, in and of itself, a necessary step in the context
of a future peace settlement, it becomes a catastrophic mistake in the absence
of such a peace settlement. And this, for three primary reasons.
Firstly, any pullback of the Israeli army and dismantling of
Israeli settlements in the context of an ongoing Palestinian campaign of
terrorism against Israel offers the Palestinians both a moral and a practical
victory. Yasser Arafat’s strategy of encouraging terrorism against Israel as a
means to “force Israel’s hand” will be vindicated, because he will be achieving
a long-standing and major goal — the “ending of the occupation” over part of
land claimed by the Palestinians, as well as the dismantling of some of the
hated Israeli settlements.
Handing Arafat such a victory will only encourage him — and
those who share his view that terrorism is a legitimate tool to be used to
achieve national goals — to continue to believe that negotiations with Israel
and concessions to it, in the context of a peace process, are not necessary.
Why should Palestinians negotiate and make compromises when sticking to a
policy of promoting terrorist violence eventually produces Israeli concessions
without any comparable Palestinian concessions?
The prime minister of Israel is thus sending the
Palestinians a clear message that violence and terrorism pay and that Israel
does not have the resolve, in the long run, to defend its interests and to
stand firm against terrorism. In practice, the main benefactor of this in the
Gaza Strip will be Hamas, and thus Israel will be inadvertently handing these
intractable enemies of Israel a victory.
Secondly, this anticipated pullback, far from decreasing the
number of future terrorist attacks will actually increase it. This is because
Israel’s policy of surrounding Palestinian cities with army roadblocks and
entering the heart of Palestinian cities from time to time on search and arrest
missions of Palestinian terrorists and attacks on Palestinian bomb-making
factories forces the terrorists further underground and significantly restricts
their freedom of action to plan and execute terrorist attacks against Israel.
A withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will provide Palestinian
terrorists with complete freedom of action, and the result will be larger
numbers of attacks, as well as increasingly deadlier ones. No network of fences
can guarantee complete success in preventing terrorist attacks if they are not
coupled with an active military policy of searching out the terrorists where
they live and plan their attacks.
Moreover, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have already
acted to attempt to surmount Israel’s barriers there by building increasingly
sophisticated Kassam rockets, which they fire from time to time into Israeli
towns near the borders of the Gaza Strip. If a future planned withdrawal from
much of the West Bank is also carried out, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s international
airport will be within range of such rockets.
This will create a situation similar to the one that Israel
faces on its northern border, where Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel have
successfully limited Israel’s freedom of action in responding to Hezbollah
attacks on the border and active support for Palestinian terrorism.
Thirdly, the inevitable wave of terrorism that Israel will
experience in the weeks and months following the planned unilateral withdrawal
will necessitate Israel going back in and reentering Palestinian cities in
Gaza, as it had done with respect to the West Bank in April 2002, during
Operation Defensive Shield.
And, as was the case during Operation Defensive Shield, the
crowded Palestinian cities will take their toll on human lives –Â Israeli and
Palestinian — as Palestinian gunmen set traps for the Israeli army and
Palestinian civilians find themselves caught in the crossfire.
Moreover, international criticism of Israel, which has, all
in all, been increasingly muted over time, will flare up once again as the
world is treated to images of Israeli tanks inside Palestinian refugee camps.
From the point of view of public relations, a continued Israeli presence, which
the world is used to seeing and has grown tired of commenting on, is preferable
to a renewed and broad-based Israeli military assault on Palestinian cities.
As long as a credible Palestinian leadership that is
committed to negotiation, which means also a commitment to making painful
compromises, does not exist, unilateral withdrawal cannot produce tangible
benefits for Israel. Moreover, such a withdrawal will not require any
commitment whatsoever on the part of the Palestinians to maintaining a
semblance of quiet in the areas vacated by Israel.
The vacuum created by the withdrawal of the Israeli army
will quickly be filled by terrorist organizations and, in the Gaza Strip, this
means primarily Hamas. This is hardly a more desirable situation than the
present one. Â
Dr. Nadav Morag is director of the Center for Israel Studies at the University of Judaism.