Later this month, Israel will mark the 10th anniversary of one of the worst terror
attacks it experienced in its nearly 64 years of existence.
It took place
on March 27, 2002, when a Palestinian suicide bomber disguised as a woman walked
into the Park Hotel in Netanya as Jews were sitting down worldwide for the
Passover Seder, and blew himself up together with 30 others.
which came at the height of the suicide- bombing campaign against Israel during
the second intifada, prompted former prime minister Ariel Sharon to authorize
the IDF to launch Operation Defensive Shield, the taking back of the West
A decade later, the effects of Defensive Shield are still felt in
the West Bank. Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist infrastructures have been
uprooted, and while terror attacks still take place, the frequency and number of
casualties has reached an all-time low.
In 2011, for example, the IDF
Central Command recorded nine shooting attacks in the entire West Bank, in
comparison to 2010, when 14 shooting attacks took place.
used to be the main terrorist tactic in the West Bank. In 2002, there were 2,878
such attacks, and up until 2006 the annual number was over 1,000.
has made the drop in terrorism so impressive, though, is that in recent years it
has not come at the expense of Palestinian freedom of movement, like was the
case during the second intifada.
Until 2009, the IDF maintained 41 manned
checkpoints throughout the West Bank. Today, there are only 11 and as Maj.-Gen.
Avi Mizrachi, head of the Central Command up until Sunday, used to boast: “A
Palestinian from Jenin in the northern West Bank can travel all the way to
Hebron in the southern West Bank, and only cross through one
Mizrachi, a no-nonsense veteran armored corps officer, left
the Central Command on Sunday after two-and-a-half years in the post, his third
as a member of the General Staff.
In a month, Mizrachi will head to
Harvard where he will participate in a business-management program for senior
executives. He will then return to Israel and compete for the deputy chief of
Unlike some of his colleagues on the General Staff,
Mizrachi has refrained from politicking throughout his career. He does not have
a following of commentators and journalists like some other generals, to push
them up the chain of command.
His interaction with the political echelon
has also always been professional, insiders say. As head of the Central Command,
Mizrachi took a number of calculated risks as part of an Israeli policy to
improve the Palestinian’s quality of life.
His orders from the
government, he would often tell subordinates, were to keep terrorism to a
minimum and to improve the Palestinian quality of life – with the ultimate goal
of providing the politicians with the ability to negotiate without the
Even in the absence of peace negotiations today between Israel
and the Palestinian Authority, there is no question regarding the success in
meeting that goal.
When taking up the post in 2009, for example, Mizrachi
discovered the age-old custom of clamping a closure on the West Bank for the
duration of all of Israeli national holidays.
He ordered the head of the
command’s operations division to prepare a paper analyzing whether a correlation
existed between the closures and terrorism attacks. The conclusion was
As a result, for the past two years, Israel has not imposed closures
on the West Bank ahead of holidays.
“We know who we give permits to enter
Israel to and they are people we have checked over and over again,” a senior IDF
officer explained this week. “There is no reason not to allow these people into
Israel, even over a holiday.”
The quiet in the West Bank, the improvement
in the quality of life and the increased coordination between the IDF and the PA
security forces is what contributed to the failure of the so-called “Arab
Spring” to reach the West Bank.
The IDF’s highly-publicized preparations
for the demonstrations that were expected there in September, but never came,
have also helped maintain the quiet.
The anniversary and success of
Operation Defensive Shield was on the minds of a number of senior IDF officers
this week amid the ongoing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, and the IAF
retaliatory bombings. This was mostly due to the understanding within the
defense establishment that there is currently no clear and decisive military
solution to the Gaza-based terror threat.
Instead, what Israel is facing
is a sequence of rounds of violence, like the one that started last Friday
afternoon. Judging by the past year, which included similar rounds in April,
August, October, the next round will probably be in the next two to five months,
Firstly, it is important to understand that Israel is not
currently interested in a large-scale operation inside Gaza, demonstrated by
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to limit the bombings in Gaza. Instead,
the government is focused on Iran.
At the Knesset on Wednesday, Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu drew a direct line between the violence in Gaza and
the Iranian nuclear threat.
Since returning from the United States and
his meeting with US President Barack Obama, Netanyahu seems more determined than
ever when it comes to Iran. In his Knesset speech, Netanyahu said Israel would
not leave its fate in the hands of others and would act if needed – like it did
when declaring statehood in 1948, when going to war in 1967 and when attacking
Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981.
Until Netanyahu’s visit to Washington
earlier this month, there were analysts who believed – possibly in what was
wishful thinking – that Netanyahu’s talk was mostly rhetoric aimed at pressuring
the world to take tougher diplomatic and economic action against
But borrowing from Obama’s remark to the Atlantic that as president
“I don’t bluff” on Iran, the same can likely be said about Netanyahu, whose
comparison of Iran to Nazi Germany and threats to use military force should be
Israel knowingly initiated the round of violence with
the Islamic Jihad with the targeted killing of a top terrorist last Friday, who
the IDF said was planning an attack along the Egyptian border. One that has
hopefully now been foiled. Nevertheless, the IDF was also curious to see how
Islamic Jihad would respond. In just four days, it fired 300 rockets at
It is true that only 166 landed inside Israel and another 56 were
intercepted by Iron Dome, but the ability to fire 300 rockets is nonetheless
The assumption within the defense establishment is that if
Islamic Jihad and Hamas both decide to retaliate against an Israeli strike
against Iran, it will face similar, if not larger, numbers from
Combined with rocket fire from Lebanon – where Hezbollah is
believed to have the ability to launch hundreds of missiles and rockets a day
into Israel – some estimates have placed the number at close to 1,000 missiles
and rockets against the home front in the first few days of fighting.
difference is that in such a case, the Iron Dome, which did a remarkable job
this week, will almost be inconsequential in face of the huge number of rockets
that will be fired into Israel, especially now, when Israel only has four