"There is no doubt that the disengagement failed. This failure emanates from the fact that the disengagement was essentially based on a doomed idea. It was not the result of thorough strategic analysis but the result of … [the] political distress of… Ariel Sharon."
Thus declared Moshe Yaalon, former Chief of Staff, in an interview of major proportions given to Ha’aretz. Yaalon was a vocal critic of the "disengagement" last year, and so was removed from his position by Sharon.
Now Yaalon says, "the disengagement was an internal Israeli game that ignored what’s going on outside Israel. It was a disengagement from reality and a disengagement from the truth.
"The process created an illusionary hope that was not planned strategically and practically. The disengagement was mainly a media spin. Those who initiated it and lead it lacked the strategic, security, political and historical background. They were image counselors. They were spin doctors…
"The intellectual failure of the disengagement is this: the fact that there is no one to speak to on the other side doesn’t mean that we can ignore the other side and the effects of his activities on us…
"The disengagement was a strategic mistake of the first order. It brought about Hamas’s victory. It emboldened terror groups. It has fueled the Palestinian struggle for years. It created a feeling among the Iranians, the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda, that Israel can be beaten….And therefore the disengagement not only harmed us badly, but also harmed America’s strategic war on terror in the region. It created a feeling among Muslim extremists that as it defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan it defeated us in Gaza and it will defeat us in Tel Aviv. As such, as they destabilized a super power, they will destabilize the west by defeating Israel.
"The Israeli public backed the disengagement because it was blinded and drugged and also because it really wanted to free itself from the burden of the conflict and divide the land. But we have to understand that although we are trying to shake the Palestinians off our backs they refuse to do so and stab us instead. We shouldn’t fool ourselves. We live in the Middle East. We cannot barricade ourselves behind walls and fences. There is no such thing as unilateralism. Even when we refuse to talk with our neighbors there is interaction with them.
"Our steps affect them. When the steps are withdrawal after withdrawal, after withdrawal, we convey weakness. And he who conveys weakness in the Middle East is like a weak animal in nature: he comes under attack." (emphasis added)
The IDF has moved into the area where three Jewish settlements were located in northern Gaza (this is north of the many settlements of Gush Katif in southern Gaza): Dugit, Elei Sinai, and Nisanit — an area being used for the launching of Kassams since the "disengagement."
Defense Minister Peretz now says there was no choice but to go back into this area. However, he advised, "We have no interest to sink in the Gaza swamp," which signals that the IDF will not be staying. "Return Gilad alive and well and stop the rocket launches, and we will return our soldiers to their bases," he said.
This leaves open many questions as to exactly how intensive, prolonged and effective this operation will be. The messages being received are a bit confused. At the same time that there is insistence that the IDF will not remain, there is talk of a "buffer" zone in the area of these former settlements, which take Sderot and Ashkelon out of range. A temporary buffer zone?
There are several problems with the current approach. Rocket launchers can be moved into an area, utilized and moved out with great speed. It is worth noting that even as the IDF moves in, a second Kassam has landed in Ashkelon. Additionally, work is constantly being done on enhancing the rockets so that the Kassams can be launched from further away. Thus, this is not likely to afford a real solution, nor is the destruction of empty buildings nor even efforts to restrict the movements of terrorists.
Today’s Jerusalem Post editorial had it right: "the challenge for Israel: to create the circumstances in which the Kassam crews, and those who could choose to rein them in, decide that their vital interest lies in putting aside the rockets."
There was some press focus today on residents of the former communities in north Gaza and how they felt on seeing the IDF go back in. They want to go home. One such resident said it creates a burning in her chest. Another, Avi Farhan, pointed out, in a statement to the Post, that "the settlements of northern Gaza were never Arab territory and until 1967 were under the control of the United Nations. Dugit and Elei Sinai are situated on a high hilltop ridge which is like a buffer zone for the Ashkelon region, whereas the Nisanit ridge controls the Beit Hanon region and defends the western Negev and Sderot.
"…[it is] time to fix the mistake and retake control of the buffer zone that was abandoned. The Palestinians need to understand that they have things that they could lose. The only way to reestablish our deterrence is to show that there are concessions which can be reversed. In the northern Gaza settlements, all the infrastructure still exists and all we would have to do is rebuild are homes."
The IDF has now suffered its first casualty: Staff Sergeant Yehuda Bassel, 21, was shot in the head by snipers and died at Soroka hospital in Beer Sheva.
In the face of the current situation in Gaza, coalition MKs — including some from Olmert’s own Kadima party — are having second thoughts about further pullouts. Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) made a strong statement yesterday: "The Palestinians don’t want peace. The will use the land to attack the Dan region [which is densely populated, including Tel Aviv and environs]." According to the Post, a senior Likud MK claims that most of the 14 MKs who bolted Likud for Kadima secretly oppose realignment. (Although it is difficult to understand what good their opposition does if it is secret.) The Shas faction has indicated it would oppose realignment, and indications of unrest are surfacing in the Labor party as well. Labor MKs Colette Avital, Ami Ayalon and Ephraim Sneh are among those who say they would only support bilateral talks.
Left wing Post columnist Larry Derfner is not someone I normally quote. But I was taken with the comments in his column today, written, you understand, by someone who had high hopes for peace with the Palestinians at one point: "…the belief I’ve lost is that the Palestinians are a basically rational, reasonable nation, that they can be talked into putting down their weapons and making peace with Israel – if not out of goodwill, than out of their own self-interest.
"What I believe now is that only Israeli military deterrence, which will no doubt require the periodic use of force, can get the Palestinians to stop fighting…
"What blighted my view of the Palestinians was that the intifada didn’t stop – because they were having too glorious a time killing and dying. For them it wasn’t [a] tragedy…it was the greatest thing they’d ever done. They just got crazier and crazier."
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