Analysis: Unilateral withdrawals

Loose ends from the IDF's 2000 retreat from Lebanon have yet to be tied up.

October 1, 2006 01:21
4 minute read.
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Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz's announcement at the cabinet meeting last week that from now on Hizbullah supporters jeering and throwing stones at IDF patrols will be shot at is unrealistic, to say the least. What is a Golani Brigade sergeant to do when he comes upon a group of trash-talking Shi'ite teenagers? Nobody is seriously suggesting a shoot-to-kill policy and shooting at the legs usually ends with close to the same results. And what if the teenagers start throwing stones? One of the proposals, that the soldiers use anti-demonstrator devices such as rubber bullets and tear gas, is also ineffective, due to the fence and distance and also raises a whole range of diplomatic and legal problems. This is not to belittle the seriousness of the Hizbullah demonstrations. In the past they have acted as cover for intelligence gathering and other preparations for full-scale attacks. But the real problem that this major nuisance highlights is the loose ends left behind by Israel's withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon in 2000 that have yet to be tied up in the current involvement. Most neighboring states, even hostile ones, have some kind of official or quiet arrangement as to border etiquette and how the peace is to be maintained along them. In Israel's case, access to the areas adjacent to its borders has usually been regulated by both sides. But when Ehud Barak fulfilled his election promise and rushed the IDF out of the security zone, the Lebanese army didn't fill the void. Instead the fence became an attraction for every Arab nationalist, including Prof. Edward Said, who came to cast a stone, and meanwhile Hizbullah was building an infrastructure. The renewal of the demonstrations and the stone-throwing, when IDF troops are still in Lebanon, is a bad sign that not all the lessons have been learned. So far, both forces that are supposed to take control, the belatedly arrived Lebanese army and the much bolstered UNIFIL, aren't showing any signs of controlling the mob. If past experience is anything to go by, that won't be happening any time soon. UNIFIL right now is refusing even to take on armed Hizbullah fighters, so what's the chance of them dispersing the stone-throwers? Eventually, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 might go some way to ensuring that most of the mistakes don't recur and hopefully the IDF will be more vigilant and the leadership more decisive next time around, but the mismanagement of the border situation highlights a more fundamental problem in the way the successive governments and IDF General Staff implement major decisions. The same pattern can be seen in the problems we have now, a year after disengagement from the Gaza Strip. At the same cabinet meeting, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Avi Dichter reported that 19 tons of explosives have been smuggled into the strip through the Rafah area, the Egyptians doing little if anything to prevent this. He also admitted that Israel has few ways to deal with the continuing Kassam missile threat on Sderot. Of course these problems also existed before the withdrawal from Gaza, but at least then the IDF was in control of Rafah and the Philadelphi Corridor and had at least some way of limiting the smuggling. An Israeli presence in the northern part of the Strip, including the settlements of Elei Sinai, Nisanit and Dugit, gave more options for attacking the Kassam launchers. Now the ruins of the three settlements are being used to shelter those launchers. One thing that the withdrawal from Lebanon and disengagement have in common was that in both cases, the government decided to withdraw in full to the recognized international border, not taking into account that borders are two-sided affairs. Since both moves were unilateral, this might seem obvious and to the opponents of either one, the difficulty of managing a border without any tacit agreement with the other side would of course be another good reason not to carry out the withdrawals. But even supporters of either initiative don't have to accept this different situation as a given. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, in his latest blistering broadside, attacked the last three governments for disregarding the National Security Council and keeping its director out of almost every important policy meeting since the NSC's inception seven years ago. For a range of political, diplomatic and security reasons, the Barak and Sharon governments went through with their withdrawals without considering all the implications. Most of the arguments raised against them were brushed aside brusquely, mainly in the belief that these were politically motivated. Chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon was even replaced for his misgivings. This is just the place where an effective and fully-functioning NSC could have been of use. The NSC and its head are supposed to be the highest professional level, advising the politicians, not formulating or changing policy for them, but helping them to look one step ahead of their actions. If Ehud Barak had given his NSC head the time of day, perhaps he might have told him that the IDF should establish a no-go-zone near the Lebanese border, immediately after the withdrawal. And if Ariel Sharon was prepared to listen, he might have heard his NSC chief telling him that the withdrawal from Gaza should have been two-staged, with forces remaining in northern Gaza and around Rafah. A professional NFC, staying on after prime ministers retire and governments fall, might have been able to tie up a few loose ends left behind by them.

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