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May 8, 2007: Critical Lesson

May 8, 2007

"Critical Lesson"

A lesson not learned: Maj.-General (res) Yaakov Amidror has done a briefing for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs entitled, "Strategic Lessons of the Winograd Report."

Put simply, he says for six years we thought it was OK to ignore the build-up of weaponry by Hezbollah, as long as it was kept quiet at the border.

And now the same thing is happening with Gaza:

"Hamas is getting stronger as it organizes itself, digs fortifications underground, and builds up its military capabilities. Israel will have to ask itself whether it is preferable to delay the confrontation with Hamas, because meanwhile there is quiet or a temporary truce or some other illusory understanding. We are likely to find ourselves in exactly the same position in Gaza that we created with respect to Lebanon.

"… What Israel is doing today in the Gaza Strip is not containment either, but rather a case of ignoring reality completely. It is an extremely costly policy.

"…It is now clear that the only way to thwart rocket attacks is by controlling the situation on the ground. Kassam rockets are today landing in Sderot and Ashkelon — and not in Kfar Saba — because Israel does not control the situation on the ground in Gaza…, whereas it has control of the ground around Kalkilya [Samaria].

"…For political reasons, the IDF was not permitted by the political echelon to cross the Israeli-Lebanese border from 2000 to 2006. This allowed Hezbollah to conduct exercises day and night and to attack at will, while Israel was unable to stop any of its preparations. The only way to deal with such a situation in the long term is to allow the IDF to cross the border and halt such offensive preparations… the IDF will have to adopt such an approach both with respect to its northern border with Lebanon and its southern border with the Gaza Strip."



The IDF has presented to the Cabinet a contingency plan for Gaza (in lieu of a major invasion):

— Create a buffer zone on the Palestinian side of the border with Gaza to allow a temporary IDF presence and keep terrorists at a distance.

— Escalate retaliatory actions against those who launch Kassams, so they know they will pay a price for what they do.

— Renew the policy of assassinations of high-ranking terrorists.

— Develop improved technology for identifying and destroying tunnels used for smuggling.

— Reinforce intelligence.

Olmert has not approved this. He will convene the Security Cabinet next week to discuss the growing military power in Gaza and proposed IDF plans to counter it. One gets the feeling that the day of reckoning here is coming, that it is inevitable.


According to Israel Radio today, the spokesman for Izzadin a-Kassam, the armed wing of Hamas, warned that if there is an IDF incursion into Gaza, Shalit’s life will be in danger and he may even be killed. Hamas later denied the statement.

Yisrael Katz (Likud) has absolutely the right idea: Olmert should tell Hamas that if Shalit is killed Haniyeh will be assassinated. Enough of the bad guys calling the shots.


The US, according to Haaretz, is nervous about the possibility of a major IDF operation in Gaza and is hoping that security forces loyal to Abbas will act against the terrorists so that an IDF incursion won’t be necessary. This is not a joke, this is what they hope. I wrote the other day about how these forces are reluctant to fire upon other Palestinians.

The security forces of Abbas did do one thing the other day: They located a smuggling tunnel near Rafah and covered it with cement (although I didn’t hear about any terrorists associated with the tunnel being caught). Aaron Lerner of IMRA says, with considerable wisdom, that this is a pointless exercise and that the pouring of cement over a tunnel entrance simply provided a photo op: Look world, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do! Remember that this is just one tunnel, and there are dozens.

If the benchmarks provided by the US were serious, declares Lerner, they would include such items as destruction of training camps and specifically identified fortifications; closing down of the rocket factories; and confiscation of rockets, weapons, and explosives. All of this can be quantified. The point is that, even if all smuggling were halted (and it won’t be), there is enough going on inside of Gaza to constitute a very genuine threat to us. But this is conveniently ignored.

Please, keep in mind as you hear news, that if the terrorists were to stop launching rockets (temporarily, while still possessing them) and stop bringing in new weaponry, they would be given a respite — no IDF ground operation, for sure, and almost certainly a halt on targeted assassinations and the like. But during this time they would be able to continue to train their forces, build their bunkers, build more weapons and rockets inside of Gaza — with even greater ease. And no one would say a word. No smuggling? No rockets fired? Hey, great!

This is the situation that Gen. Amidror is addressing. As long as the risk to us sits there in Gaza, unimpeded, we are not in a good situation even if there is apparent quiet.


I will add that this scenario dovetails precisely with Muslim Arab military practice. They have well-established policies of signing peace treaties (as Muhammad himself did) and calling ceasefires (called hudna) temporarily to give them a chance to regroup. Too bad those making policy — including most specifically here the US State Department — don’t seem to have noticed this. There is all too little attention paid to Muslim Arab mindset.


"For several weeks now the Gaza Strip has been burning," writes Avi Issacharoff in Haaretz. He’s not talking about Hamas-Fatah tensions, but, rather, battles between large groups, often affiliated with clans and leveraging for economic advantage. I reported on the beginnings of this phenomenon right after the "disengagement." Areas of land that were supposed to be used for public projects were co-opted by armed clans, and the PA was powerless to do anything about it.

"Nearly every day for the past two weeks, men, women and children have been killed in Gaza." Approximately 100,000 men in Gaza possess weapons.

Additionally there are attacks by fanatical religious al-Qaida affiliated groups, often aimed against symbols of the West such as Internet cafes and libraries.

The media, which is eager to track violence between political factions or between Palestinians and Israelis, is largely ignoring this, says Issacharoff. Even more significantly, the so-called human rights organizations are ignoring it. Groups that scrupulously monitor Israeli roadblocks are silent here, even as women are victims of "honor killings."


Speaking of the duplicity of "human rights" organizations, let me here mention Betselem — an Israeli group founded in 1989 to monitor Israeli behavior in the "occupied" territories. I was pr
esent at a left wing conference a few years ago, at which the executive director of this group publicly acknowledged that they use human rights issues for a political agenda. Their material, which receives wide coverage, is often slanted and unreliable; Betselem is known, for example, for a practice of taking eye witness "accounts" without documentation or corroboration.

Now Betselem has issued a report regarding Israeli torture of security detainees. Know, if you should see this, that it is not a reliable report. The Israeli Ministry of Justice has put out a lengthy letter as a rebuttal to this report, which it says is “fraught with mistakes, groundless claims and inaccuracies.”

For details, see: http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article.php?id=1411

Please be aware, as well, that The New Israel Fund supports Betselem.


Well, Condoleezza Rice has made a smart decision: She’s cancelled her trip here, planned for next week. Too much political turmoil.

We should not think, however, cautioned State Department Sean McCormack, that this means there will be reduction in focus on helping the process along: "…we’re working closely with the government of Prime Minister Olmert, as well as partners on the Palestinian side."


On the political front: The Labor party is in a place of turmoil and indecision with regard to staying in the coalition. The meeting of its Central Committee, which was supposed to take place Thursday, has been postponed, and today Barak held a brief press conference. I wish it were possible for me to report with coherence on what Barak said, but there are inconsistencies or, perhaps better put, deliberate ambiguities.

Put briefly: Barak thinks Olmert has to assume responsibilities for failures and quit. If he — Barak — wins the Labor primary at the end of the month, and becomes party leader, he will consent to having Labor in the coalition with Kadima only if Olmert resigns. However, Barak is willing to serve in a transitional government as defense minister. Because, after all, there has to be a period of transition — after which there would be a reformulated coalition or Kadima would call for elections. And he did say at one point that he would serve as defense minister in the coalition so he’d be meeting his obligation. And during that transition time he would be able to lend his considerable expertise to carrying out Winograd reforms. If Olmert doesn’t agree to resign by the time of the Labor primaries, Barak will work towards early elections.

Got that?

The part about early elections surprised me, because were this to happen, Barak wouldn’t serve in any government capacity because there would be a Likud coalition. Doing this for the good of the country? Barak? When asked by a member of the press whether he should also take responsibility for failures, according to what Winograd addressed, he had no comment. Barak is not a humble man.

Ofir Pines-Paz, a fellow candidate for Labor leadership, commented that: "Barak has stopped keeping silent quietly and he is now keeping silent out loud. He is making opposing statements." I rather liked that.


To hedge his bets, Olmert has been negotiating the entrance into the coalition of Degel Hatorah (banner of the Torah), a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) group — in this instance Ashkenaz, non-Hasidic — that is part of United Torah Judaism. Seems the issue for Degel Hatorah is promotion of an education bill that would enhance support for their schools. This is what I hate about coalition politics. To some this is no more than business as usual. For me this is a form of political prostitution. Degel Hatorah, I assure you, is not ideologically in line with Olmert.


I have had this for a couple of weeks (thanks to Sam Freedenberg). This is a link to a photo. It will speak for itself.





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