Intifada Causes Disunity among Israeli Ranks

Published December 20th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Israeli top brass, security services and politicians are in disagreement over issues related to the Intifada: its causes, best ways to stop it and whether it was wise to start talks in Washington while “violence” has not stopped, according to a report by Haaretz daily. The military see that they have been left alone in the battlefield, whereas the politicians and the public are getting busy with the elections and Washington talks. 

 

Following is the full article as published in the paper’s Internet edition: 

 

Had the members of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week invited the IDF's top brass - the chief of staff, his deputy, the head of intelligence unit or the head of its research department - and posed some pointed questions to them, it is possible that the MKs would have heard several surprisingly sharp remarks.  

There is always a certain tension between the political and military echelons, but it seems that it has been a long time since the top brass were so skeptical of politicians, as is the case now with regard to the prospects for the Barak government's last peace initiative.  

Even within the defense establishment, there is no complete agreement. Military Intelligence, the national forecaster, is split with Shin Bet security service experts and the Civil Administration on the reasons for the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and over the question of the involvement of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in guiding it.  

Other senior officials - including deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, senior officials in the Shin Bet, those involved in coordinating activities in the territories and to a lesser extent, officers in the various territorial commands - doubted the effectiveness of some of the hard-line measures toward the Palestinians. However, it seems that most of the top brass is speaking more or less in one voice. What troubles them, one may speculate, is that the politicians are now talking in a totally different voice. The process that was perceived until the start of the political whirlwind as a combined, multi-faceted struggle to end the Palestinian violence is changing its colors.  

As elections approach, it seems that the officers will be left alone in the arena. It seems that as much as the officers are angry at having "tied hands," they are more troubled about the loss of interest - in the government as well as among the public. Some are already suggesting a new slogan, "this is not the way to build a wall," meaning: The political echelon, through its decisions, must also contribute to the struggle.  

The resumption of negotiations in Washington cost Israel a concession on the demand it made forcefully after the rioting started - talks only after a cease-fire. Now they are talking and shooting at the same time, when it seems that the PA has no real incentive to stop the violence, which has proven to pay off. It is a fact: Ehud Barak is now going to attend talks and his opening offer is more generous than what he offered at Camp David, before the battles.  

Who still remembers the tense Israeli expectation for a declaration by Arafat ending the violence at 2:00 P.M. on November 2, the day after his meeting with Minister Shimon Peres in Gaza? That same evening a car bomb exploded in Jerusalem and that night a record (that still stands) number of shooting incidents was registered. The chairman sufficed with a vague call not to shoot from Area A, several weeks later. Israel forgot, just as it went back on its demand to disarm the Tanzim of its weapons, after the Nakba (catastrophe) riots in May.  

A senior officer serving in the territories claims that the "instructions we're receiving now border on negligence, in the best case." According to him, "two weeks ago we said we wouldn't tolerate shooting at settlements. Now it's a daily occurrence. We take risks that have no purpose, while Arafat is not positioning his system to prevent attacks."  

"No one is deluding themselves by thinking that the solution is purely military," says the officer. "But at the moment what we are able to do is only to minimize the damage." If on the outside they see primarily the excessive force used by the IDF, the army feels the opposite, the weakening of the "leverage" against the PA, while the elections in Israel give Arafat room to breathe.  

No one in the IDF will specifically say so, especially when the chief of staff cautions his generals against making any political statement in light of the elections, but some of Barak's moves are interpreted by many officers as a political survival tactic whose chances of success are slim and whose results may be catastrophic. In this context, the assessment of Military Intelligence is a sharp one (contrary to the opinion of some ministers involved in the contacts): Arafat has no incentive nor intention of achieving a political compromise now.  

Throughout the clash with the Palestinians, the IDF has proposed steps aimed directly at senior PA officials, such as retracting the VIP cards of the heads of the security agencies, Muhammad Dahlan and Tawfiq Tirawi, whose officers were involved in terrorist attacks. These proposals were not approved. Along with economic sanctions against the PA, they argued (and this is controversial) that a distinction can be made between "punishment" for a people and its leadership, that it is possible to harm the PA financially, while not starving the residents.  

In practice, most of the sanctions have disintegrated or been lifted: the supply of construction material for PA use was resumed and gasoline was allowed to be brought in. The Karni crossing is open, as is the airport in Rafiah and the border crossing to Egypt. The export of goods from Gaza is resuming (regarding the entry of workers, incidentally, there is no disagreement at the moment, so long as the Shin Bet oversees the security permits). Israel also recanted its decision to withhold funds from the PA.  

Arafat is currently paying the salary for October to his policemen, and Military Intelligence believes that, with a considerable and belated effort, he will manage to also pay the following month's salaries. That is the case even though the contributions promised by the Arab states have yet to arrive: thus far the PA has received only $30 million (plus another 20 million euros) of $1 billion that was promised.  

Some IDF officials question the "unfortunate Arafat" image that he is playing up and see it as his pulling a fast one by the man who had already considered ending the violence, but then discovered that it still pays off and decided to keep it up. The right-wing cry to "Let the IDF win" is still seen as an idiotic slogan, but apparently the political echelon's denials that  

 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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