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(photo credit: AP [file])
Monday's suicide bombing - in which nine people were killed and dozens of others wounded - has military officials questioning both the effectiveness of specific IDF operations in the West Bank and the army's overall strategy in general.
Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz - whose stated goal has not been to eradicate terror, but to reduce it to a tolerable minimum - has so far decided to keep ground forces out of the Gaza Strip and to continue using long-distance precision strikes, such as artillery cannons and IAF fighter jets. This in part is due to the fact that not a single Israeli has been killed by a Kassam since disengagement some nine months ago.
The arrest raids in the West Bank, too, have been carried out according to the "long-arm" tactic: staying out of the cities unless there is precise intelligence about a terror cell in the works or a bomber beginning his death march toward Israel.
This tactic, combined with a cost-benefit analysis of damage and casualties, has so far been the driving force behind the IDF's current military campaigns, both in Gaza against Kassam rockets and in the West Bank against Islamic Jihad suicide bombers.
Four years ago, following the Pessah suicide bombing in Netanya's Park Hotel, Operation Defensive Shield was launched. It created an almost permanent militarily presence in the West Bank and brought about a drastic decrease in the number of suicide bombings. In contrast, the current campaigns in the Islamic Jihad's backyard in Nablus and Jenin (home of Monday's bomber) - "New Spring" in Nablus and "Tiger's Den" in northern Samaria - have officers claiming that the terror groups are not being penetrated as much as the army would have liked.
NEVERTHELESS, AND despite some calls from within the IDF General Staff for a Defensive Shield-like operation in Samaria that would place tanks in downtown Nablus, Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz have decided that Israel's response to Monday's attack would be in keeping with the current "precision-strike" approach.
Troops, Olmert determined, will continue acting on specific intelligence regarding West Bank terror infrastructure; Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi was ordered to write a paper about the weak points of Israel-West Bank crossings; and the Defense Ministry was ordered to speed up construction of the Jerusalem Envelope fence, assessed to have been used by this week's suicide bomber to infiltrate into Israel.
In response, some in the defense establishment said that no additional papers or tough talk were going to stop the flow of terror and its spillover into Israeli cities. These officials believe that a thorough "mowing" is what is needed to stop the terror lawn from continuing to grow.
WHILE OLMERT and defense chiefs scratched their heads to come up with the right response to Monday's attack and measures to prevent the next one, settlers in the West Bank and evacuees from Gaza were attributing the upsurge in terror to the government's policies of disengagement and "convergence."
This week marked not only Pessah festivities but also demonstrations of power by settlers throughout the West Bank in the run-up to what they promise will be a long and difficult fight against further withdrawals.
On Sunday, more than 1,000 activists broke through a ring of policemen and soldiers to march on the road from Beit El to Talmon, in defiance of the IDF declaring the area a closed military zone. Clashes broke out during the march, which was organized by "Youth for the Land of Israel," a group which erected several illegal outposts in the West Bank last year. Aside from the rocks and paint-filled light bulbs thrown at security forces, as a result of which some 10 arrests were made, the march carried a much stronger underlying message: Olmert's plan to withdraw from the West Bank will not succeed.
"This was a gratifying day," Kedumim Regional Council head Daniella Weiss said following the march. "We showed them we can march where we want and that Olmert will not succeed in evacuating us."
The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip is currently formulating a plan to fight Olmert's declared intention to withdraw from a majority of the West Bank. Settler leaders are still licking their wounds from their failure to stop Ariel Sharon's disengagement from Gaza and are reevaluating the type of campaign they launched at the time.
One of the questions the Council is asking, Council spokeswoman Emily Amrusi said, is whether they should change their attitude toward refusing IDF orders - accepted only by fringe elements during the Gaza withdrawal and blasted by the more formal and official settler movements.
The army is well aware of the mood within the national religious camp. In an effort to bridge the gap and maintain an open dialogue, Halutz - following disengagement - appointed Brig.-Gen. Tal Russo, former head of IDF forces in the Jordan Valley, to deal with IDF-national religious relations.
In a report he recently submitted to the General Staff, Russo painted a daunting picture of a growing rift between the army and the religious camp. Russo, who held talks with rabbis, settler leaders, parents and teenagers, came to the conclusion that the national religious camp is in the midst of a crisis: searching for a new identity in a post-disengagement reality, and gearing up for the next battle.