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THE ISRAEL REPORT

May/June 2000
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Ha'aretz military correspondent Amir Oren on preparations for conflicts with the Palestinians

Ha'aretz 23 June 2000

The territories have been strangely quiet over the past few days - relatively speaking. Relatively speaking because violent incidents in the West Bank and Gaza, including sniping on IDF and border guard patrols, are pushed to the back pages as long as there are no deaths. Strangely, because it reminds one of the quiet of June 4, 1967 and October 5, 1973 - the stillness on the eve of a war.

The IDF's working assumptions are that mass violence will erupt in the territories, beginning with unrest in the streets and continuing with gun battles; that it will be initiated by Arafat as a means of improving his bargaining position; and that it will spiral out of control and become an all-out conflagration. Both sides are preparing for the future on the basis of the May scenario, which set the stage with clashes in the territories and the IDF pullout from Lebanon, but there are more than two sides. In Israel, apart from the IDF, there are also settlers, and they are not a single bloc either. There are establishment settlers (Yesha Council) and there are extremists. Among the Palestinians, not all accept the authority of the PA.

The extremists, according to reports reaching the IDF and the Shin Bet, are talking about "judgment day," about being abandoned in the field "like the SLA refugees," about planned acts of extremism. The IDF will avoid aggressive tactics in the territories, but if the Palestinians resort to arms, the army has a tough response lined up: Tanks and combat helicopters will be deployed and possibly put to use. Intelligence sources have warned that the Palestinians may have hand-held, anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles in their possession.

As fears mount that soldiers will be kidnapped and murdered, or held as bargaining chips, IDF commanders in the territories have asked Mofaz to stop sending non-combat soldiers from the Kirya and home front bases to guard the settlements. Apart from not being very efficient, these pseudo-guards are a risk to themselves. Their guns have a way of going off accidently and many of them go AWOL, which, in practical terms, means soldiers hitchhiking in the territories - a recipe for kidnapping.


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