[Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA: Amir Rapaport's reports are certainly interesting.
But please keep in mind that the references seeking to blame Israel for the
lack of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are more a reflection of what is
apparently his political orientation than a description of what has
transpired. There haven't been talks because Mahmoud Abbas won't talk with
Israel unless Israel gives in to his laundry list of demands.]
Judea and Samaria - The Start of a New Defense Era
Recognizing Hamas sovereignty in Gaza has raised the level of violence in
Judea and Samaria; The IDF senior echelon is frustrated from the situation
and point fingers towards the political echelon; and in Syria, Assad’s
status continues to deteriorate
Amir Rapaport 14/12/2012
The silence that has prevailed around the Gaza Strip has led to a rise in
the level of violence throughout the Judea and Samaria region. This is more
than just violence: the IDF and the Shabak are already regarding to the new
situation there as the start of a new defense era. The near-total calm that
characterized the years 2008-2012 is a thing of the past.
In order to understand the new reality, a fact should be noted that has not
been significantly discussed, and which it is doubtful that even one percent
of the Israeli populace is aware of. During operation Pillar of Defense,
Israel made a decision of historical significance - to recognized Hamas as
the full sovereign in the Gaza Strip. It isn't as though Israel did not
consider Hamas to be responsible for events transpiring in the Gaza Strip,
but it made sure to honor the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas
(Abu Mazen), at least symbolically.
Thus Egypt involved the Authority in the negotiations held over the
ceasefire due to previous rounds of combat, such as operation Cast Lead in
2009. However, that was in the era of President Hosni Mubarak. The current
ruler, Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Morsi (who continues dealing with his
own internal troubles, due to his failed attempt to dictate a new
constitution in Egypt), does not count Abu Mazen or the King of Jordan,
Abdullah. There is a certain logic in recognizing Hamas as the de facto
ruler in the Gaza Strip, from Israel’s perspective. As a ruler, the cost of
Hamas’s losses from previous rounds against Israel is higher, and by that
rationale (as well as a desire to end Pillar of Defense as soon as
possible), Israel gave Hamas far-reaching achievements in the framework of
the negotiations. With the immediate end of the fire, it cancelled the
"perimeter, a 300 meter area to the west of the border fence encompassing
the Gaza Strip, to which entry was prohibited since the end of Cast Lead.
Israel also agreed to ease the blockade imposed on Gaza and even expanded
the permitted fishing areas off of the coast of the strip.
"The Jews Only Understand Force"
If we examine just the tactical implications of recognizing Hamas, then the
success of the effort and of Pillar of Defense is dizzying. Since an hour
after the end of the operation (when the last rocket was launched towards
Israel) and until this weekend, not a single shot was fired from Gaza into
Israel. This is despite the fact that IDF forces killed two Gazans who tried
to storm the fence and wounded several other rioters.
In recent weeks, Hamas has taken full command and has even stopped the
protests. The IDF’s Operations Branch is comparing the data collected in the
past three weeks since the end of the Pillar of Defense to the first few
weeks after Cast Lead, when bombs and rockets were launched from the Gaza
Strip at a rate of 2-3 events per week. This pace receded, until the start
of a new round of escalation.
The officers coordinating the data find it difficult to believe that the
quiet in the south since the end of Pillar of Defense is absolute. The
problem is that the current achievement could result in a strategic disaster
over time. It is quite possible that Hamas and Islamic Jihad will try once
more to obtain weapons that can reach Tel Aviv, in order to refill their
Worse than the future strengthening of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad is the
fact that Fatah suffered a huge blow in the West Bank from HAmas. It would
be simplistic to argue that the violence that has risen in recent weeks in
the Palestinian territories is because Israel has not negotiatied with the
PA in recent years, or because the results of Pillar of Defense harmed the
deterrence. However, both of these factors have contributed to the new
situation that has been created in the territories.
With regards to the political matter, the halting of negotiations has
definitely generated considerable frustration in the Palestinian street.
Expectations for UN recognition of a Palestinian state in September 2011
were dashed, and there is an authentic protest over the economic situation
and living expenses. These have pressured Abu Mazen to take a unilateral
step of approaching the UN this year for recognizing Palestine as the 194th
state, under observer status. Abu Mazen not only led the political move
which was successful for him, he also began using "popular struggle"
terminology in his speeches, and spoke at the heart of Ramallah after the UN
announcement, with hundreds of Palestinians shouting "a million martyrs rise
to Jerusalem" in front of him. He has never looked so much like Arafat,
until that demonstration.
The historical debate as to whether the Palestinian Authority founder Yasser
Arafat initiated the second intifada in September 2000, or just rode upon it
will never be decided. However, it is a simpler case for Abu Mazen: despite
the speech in Ramallah, the consensus in the Israeli defense establishment
is that his clinging to the political path is authentic. Mahmoud Abbas is
not a leader of intifadas. His problem is his population is quite sure that
the conflict path remains the right way, and that "the Jews only understand
force." We are helping Palestinian streets arrive to this conclusion.
No significant activity was noted this week by Palestinian security forces
against Hamas. The Palestinian security force commanders are in a difficult
situation, by the way: Hamas’ accomplishments in Gaza severely hurt their
pride. Many in the street already compare the Palestinian security forces,
which were established with massive US and European assistance and with
Israel's full support, to the Southern Lebanese army, which is badly
remembered by many Arabs.
The pressure from the street initially influences the field echelons, and
resulted in incidents in which the Palestinian security forces were
involved, in Hebron, in Tul Karem and in Jenin. This week, there were
already signs that the PA is attempting to stop the growing wave of violence
and control the height of the flames. However, a series of incidents
throughout the Judea and Samaria region prove that it will not be easy to
put the genie back in the bottle, if there will be any actual attempt to
return things to the way they were.
Instructions for Opening Fire
The Israeli media dealt this week with the question of the soldier
instructions for opening fire in the Judea and Samaria region, in light of
the new reality and the embarrassing photos of soldiers escaping in Hebron
and in Kedum. The fact is that soldiers and Magav police forces carry a
fairly thick notebook in their pockets with dozens of instructions for
opening fire, according to the various situations. The common denominator
for all of the orders is the approval for opening live fire only when facing
life-threatening situations. However, there is no chance that any notebook
would describe in advance every situation that could develop in a field with
such a high level of friction.
Even if it were possible to foresee all of the situations, there is no
commander or soldier that can always make the correct decision in a fraction
of a second, and while under a sense of danger which is necessarily
subjective. The soldiers in the field will continue to be in an impossible
predicament – any death of a Palestinian only agitates the situation
further, and thus the formal policy remains one of "contained restraint'.
However, even photos of soldiers that do not respond to provocations and
riots have a disastrous effect.
If it is of any comfort to the junior echelon, there is a growing sense of
frustration among the senior echelons of the IDF as well, except that it is
directed, (off the record, of course) towards the political echelon.
Military sources say that it's not only that the political echelon in Israel
has not maintained the process with the Palestinians alive as an alternative
to Hamas’ path of conflict, but worse no less is that Israeli ministers have
recently spoken against the PA, and the government has announced the
construction of 3,000 residential units in the field, to punish Abu Mazen.
As far as the IDF is concerned, the Judea and Samaria sector has returned to
being a prominent sector. The IDF has announced the goal of increasing
readiness for a significant conflict in the territories, as of the first
quarter of 2013. The actual meaning is more training for riot scenarios in
the territories and more measures such as non-lethal weapons. At this stage,
the IDF is not discussing permanent reinforcement of forces in Judea and
On the contrary, forces planned for the sector in 2013 are even somewhat
fewer compared to the average force in the area in 2012.
Meanwhile in Syria
In Syria, Bashar al-Assad took another significant step towards his
inevitable end: either surrendering to the rebels and even death, or
escaping to one of his pre-prepared shelters in Russia, Dubai or in
Venezuela. In the past week, the rebels have already achieved a tie-breaker
in the ongoing civil war, after 90 organizations united under one roof and
attained advanced antiaircraft weaponry (with Qatari and Western funding).
The advanced weapons succeeded not only in hitting several of the Syrian Air
Forces’ aircraft and helicopters, but also succeeded in almost completely
neutralizing the Syrian air force. This is the background for the
astonishing fire of SCUD-B missiles carried out this week by forces loyal to
the Assad regime, directed towards rebel centers in the country's north. The
fire was initially revealed by US sources. On one hand, it testifies to the
weakness of the Syrian regime, which is on the verge of near-total collapse
(In the even of a total collapse, there is a scenario in which Assad will
launch Scuds towards Israel). Yet on the other, it also points to the
weakness of the US administration.
Instead of displaying determination against Assad and leading the region, as
in the past, the US administration is hiding behind leaks to the New York
Times, and is not taking any initiative which would change the situation.
This is also in order to avoid confronting with Russia, whose strategy today
is to do the exact opposite now, what the US wants – only they will not
enact the same policy with the Iranian issue as well.