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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
With Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traversing the globe to sell his West Bank realignment plan, the defense establishment has begun debating the need for a massive military operation throughout the Palestinian Authority territories to destroy the terror infrastructure prior to withdrawal.
Senior members of the IDF General Staff have been calling for larger-scale raids and operations like 2002's Defensive Shield to reduce Islamic Jihad's terror infrastructure in the West Bank.
At the moment, the IDF has cut off northern Samaria, including Nablus, from the rest of the West Bank, in an effort to prevent terrorists from entering Israel. Some of the generals are also calling for ground operations in the Gaza Strip to curb the almost daily Kassam rocket attacks on the Western Negev.
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter on Sunday urged the IDF to attack the northern Gaza Strip and to turn Beit Hanun "into a ghost town" if the Palestinians continue to launch Kassam rockets from there.
Taking a contrary position, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Political-Military Bureau, said in a closed forum recently that advocating a large operation throughout the West Bank prior to realignment was "oversimplifying" the issue. The main question that had yet to be decided, he said, was whether Israel would retain a military presence in evacuated portions of the West Bank.
"If the army stays there, then there is no need for such an operation," a high-ranking defense official told The Jerusalem Post. "But if the IDF pulls out together with the settlers, then there might be a need for such an operation to destroy terror infrastructure prior to the withdrawal."
While some IDF officers are calling for the army to take the initiative, others - basing themselves on Military Intelligence forecasts - argue that the IDF is headed for a new round with the Palestinians anyway. Officers in the field say renewed violence could erupt as early as this summer, and they recently begun sending battalions to urban warfare complexes to train for expected operations in cities like Nablus and Jenin.
The dreary prognosis is based on the army's five-year plan for 2006-2011, which will be made public in July. It is to be reviewed and approved by the General Staff during a workshop next month. According to the assessment, IDF intelligence officials believe Olmert's ambitious plan to withdraw from large parts of the West Bank will not do anything to decrease violence in the region.
"Palestinian society has chosen a path in which there is no compromise," a senior officer said, referring to Hamas's January election victory.
The primary threat to Israel, according to the five-year plan, is the Iranian nuclear program, which it calls an "existential threat." In second place comes the threat of renewed low-intensity conflict with the Palestinians. The third level of threat is the danger of an all-out war.
To prepare for a conflict with the Palestinians, the IDF will shift resources toward counterterrorism units and away from traditional arms, such as armor, artillery and engineering.