Israel Report

June 2001         



Aggressive Attrition

June, 01 2001

- Talk of war is again in the air, this time not of a general war, but one against our lapsed partner, the Palestinian Authority. As Housing Minister Natan Sharansky states, it is not a question of starting a war, but joining one in progress.

"What does this mean, to initiate war?" Sharansky told this newspaper. "We are in a war, no? We are in a war where we are not using our strength. Everyday our people are getting killed."

Sharansky, a member of the security cabinet, continued, "I am not saying to reconquer Gaza, but we need to fight with all the strength we have against the terrorist infrastructure."

Binyamin Netanyahu was even less subtle in calling for an end to restraint, saying: "They say that there is no military solution, but in the past we stopped the terror in the Gaza Strip... and the Jordan Valley. We have to set firm rules and move to a situation of a decisive victory. Israel should... concentrate its might to eliminate terror infrastructure - to strike radio, television, media, transportation, gas, and weapons reserves and the PA's economic infrastructure. We have not yet used one percent of the power of the IDF. If Arafat continues the terror we will make sure that his terrorist regime will collapse. It is to this end that a unity government was formed, and it will receive tremendous backing for its actions."

Sharansky and Netanyahu are basically on the right track, but there is a need to clarify some of the concepts that are being bandied about. First, the goal of achieving decisive victory is absolutely correct and feasible, but the diplomatic component of victory is inseparable from the military one. Imposing a military price without depriving Yasser Arafat of a diplomatic gain will not work. In fact, denying Arafat the hope of diplomatic fruits for his offensive is arguably a more important component of defeating him than any military harm Israel can inflict.

Second, we should not get too carried away with the term "infrastructure," because the Palestinians may not have that much to destroy. Israel is already largely responsible for providing or could easily cut off the Palestinians' supply of electricity, water, and other essentials. The Palestinians do not have many heavy weapons. If Israel can find any ammunition caches, they certainly should be destroyed, but it hard to believe that Israel could cause an acute shortage of machine guns, ammunition, or mortars.

That said, it is not true that Israel has done everything it can to make it more difficult for the Palestinians to fight. Israel can make it more difficult for Arafat's cells to move around, communicate, spread incitement, smuggle weapons, and so on.

In other words, even if Israel were not constrained diplomatically, this is not a war that lends itself to tanks and fighter aircraft, but to relentless, clever, and relatively small acts of aggressive attrition. This should not be news to Ariel Sharon, who decades ago defeated terrorism in Gaza by similar methods.

Since the Palestinians have shown no interest in reciprocating, the only legitimate purpose of the current unilateral cease-fire is to convince the international community that Israel has no choice but to engage in such an intense, perhaps protracted, but deliberately constrained counteroffensive.

Lastly, we should be clear in our own minds that the goal is to defeat Arafat's offensive, not necessarily to cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse, or to force Arafat to flee to Baghdad or elsewhere. Arafat's personal fate is less important than the fate of his strategy of using violence for diplomatic gain. What must be defeated is the Hizbullah model - the idea that if you kill a few Israelis for long enough, they will get tired and leave.

At the same time, we should not be going out of our way to preserve Arafat's reign according to the notion that only he can be a partner, make historic compromises, or prevent anarchy. In any case, Palestinian hopes of developing a democratic society have been dashed by Arafat, and it will take a long time to repair the damage, under the best of circumstances.

At Camp David and Taba, the Palestinians destroyed the Israeli dream of a peaceful transition to a comprehensive series of peace treaties. Now it is Israel's turn to destroy the Arafat's dream of conquering Jerusalem like Saladin. With both dreams lying in tatters, it will be possible to piece together a temporary arrangement that both sides can live with for some time, while the Palestinians learn to live with the idea that, like in 1947, they missed an opportunity that will not completely return.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post


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