IDf operation 298.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF would recommend retaining a military presence across the West Bank even after a unilateral withdrawal from most of the territory under Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's convergence plan, a high-ranking military officer has told The Jerusalem Post.
The IDF, the officer said, would need to maintain a military presence in "every corner" of the West Bank unless the pullout was carried out in agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
"As long as there isn't someone on the other side to take over the reins then we need to be in control," the officer said.
Yet to be fully revealed, Olmert has said that the goal of his plan is to ensure security and set Israel's permanent borders. While former Shin Bet chief and Kadima member Avi Dichter said recently that he believed the military would not pull out of the West Bank, and that the pullback would be of civilian settlers rather than of the IDF, both Olmert and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz dismissed his remarks while strongly hinting that the withdrawal would be total, including the withdrawal of the IDF.
According to the senior officer, Israel would be in grave danger if the army pulled out of Judea and Samaria. "The IDF cannot leave the West Bank and will need to retain control over every corner there to ensure security for the Israeli people," he said.
The case of Gaza, the officer claimed, was completely different to the West Bank. While the IDF is battling intensified Kassam rocket fire from Gaza, Palestinians no longer succeed in infiltrating into Israel from the Strip since this past summer's disengagement. By contrast, even if the West Bank security fence was completed before a pullout, the topography and terrain there facilitated continued infiltrations into Israel.
"The West Bank requires a different solution to the one in Gaza," he said. "We need to be in control [of the West Bank] to prevent the firing of Katyushas or mortars from Kalkilya to Netanya. This cannot be allowed to happen."
The officer stressed, nonetheless, that whatever orders the army received from the new prime minister, it would know how to carry them out. "The main issue is how the political leader will want to redesign the State of Israel," he said, adding that "the IDF has all the necessary capabilities to carry out any plan of any prime minister."
In a recent interview with the Post, Mofaz spelled out his vision of the West Bank areas Israel would continue to hold after "convergence." These, he said, would include the settlement blocs of Ma'ale Adumim, the Jordan Valley, Ariel, Kedumim-Karniei Shomron, Gush Etzion, Reihan-Shaked and Ofarim-Beit Aryeh.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the IDF defended its new policy of firing artillery shells at Kassam launch sites in the northern Gaza Strip even close to populated areas.
On Monday, an eight-year-old girl was killed after an IDF shell hit her home in the northern Gaza suburb of Beit Lahiyeh. Defense officials accused Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of responsibility for the continued Kassam rocket fire at Israel, claiming that internal bickering between him and the newly-formed Hamas government had basically granted terror groups operational freedom.
"The PA is in distress," a senior defense official said. "There is a lot of tension between Abbas and the Hamas over who is really in charge and that stress is allowing the terror groups to operate without restraint."
Earlier in the day, on a tour of the Northern Gaza Brigade, Mofaz called on the IDF to escalate its response to the Kassam rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. "As long as it's not quiet in Israel, it won't be quiet in Gaza," Mofaz told the soldiers.
Following a security assessment at his Tel Aviv office later in the day, Mofaz ordered security forces to raise the level of alert during the Pessah holiday.