Security and Defense: No decisive solution

Despite success of Iron Dome, ending missile attacks from Gaza is a different proposition altogether.

Passover massacre in Netanya 2002 370 (photo credit: Havakuk Levison/Reuters)
Passover massacre in Netanya 2002 370
(photo credit: Havakuk Levison/Reuters)
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.
The attack, 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 Bank.
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.
Shooting attacks 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.
What 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 checkpoint.”
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 staff position.
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 pressure.
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 no.
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, or sooner.
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 Iran.
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 taken seriously.
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 Israel.
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 impressive.
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 Gaza.
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.
The 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 batteries.