Security and Defense: Wondering about the West Bank

Officials say the potential for mega-terror coming from the Gaza Strip has increased drastically.

idf arrests pal 88 (photo credit: )
idf arrests pal 88
(photo credit: )
'Gaza is sealed," senior officers repeated this week, asserting that since disengagement in the summer, not a single suicide bomber has succeeded in infiltrating Israel from the Gaza Strip. As a result, the terrorists are left with no choice but to fire homemade rockets. Indeed, this week, Kassams continued to be launched from Gaza, some of which landed near strategic installations in Ashkelon. The IDF said that though it did not plan on reentering Gaza in the near future, a ground operation might end up proving to be the only viable solution to the attacks. According to government and military officials, though IAF artillery barrages and missile strikes on targeted terrorists did help deter rocket-launching cells, it was only a matter of time before a Kassam would cause real damage and killing. In other words, though the number of attacks has decreased somewhat, the "potential for attacks" has increased drastically. Because of this, the IDF is closely following Gaza's military build-up and the increase in arms smuggled in from Egypt. It is also noting al-Qaida infiltration into the Strip, with cells sprouting up in the West Bank - since this means the international terror group could soon become a major player in the local terror scene, one that takes its orders not from local faction heads, but from the movement's Iraqi leader, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. Al-Qaida, a senior defense official said this week, was different from and far more dangerous than the standard Palestinian terror group. "They have time and patience," the official said, "and they will strike with large-scale attacks." With al-Qaida already in Gaza, and Global Jihad operating in nearby Jordan and Egypt, it is only a matter of time, officials warned, before Katyusha rockets and anti-aircraft missiles also make their way into the Strip. IT IS thus that a ruckus among the IDF general staff was caused this week when Kadima candidate Avi Dichter announced that Israel would unilaterally disengage from large sections of the West Bank if his party wins the elections. This ruckus brought to surface one of the most crucial arguments over the importance of Israel's continued control over the settlements in Judea and Samaria. The terror infrastructure in the West Bank, IDF officers said, is like a lawn - one that every so often needed to be mowed to prevent it from growing too high. Due to its proximity to the Israeli coastline and major cities like Tel Aviv and Kfar Sava, they said, a Gaza-style disengagement from the West Bank may not be the right solution. So, while the IDF has been anticipating a second disengagement under the next government, some officers heaved a sigh of relief when they heard the former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief's plan: for the pullout to be a strictly "civilian affair," and for the army to preserve its presence, when needed, in the evacuated territories. The general view among members of the defense establishment these days is that control over the settlements is no longer critical for security within the Green Line. Dichter's saying that even with a unilateral evacuation, the army could still maintain presence in the West Bank - without the burden of guarding the settlements - provided a counterargument to the settlers' claim that communities like Elon Moreh near Nablus and Psagot near Ramallah were protecting cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. What makes the army view the West Bank as different from Gaza is its belief that it can reduce Kassam fire from Gaza by attacking from the outside, while a full military pullout from the West Bank would leave the door open for terrorist elements just around the bend from Israel's center in Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva and Kfar Sava. "More land creates better security," one officer said. "This way we create buffer zones and prevent terror from spilling over into the Green Line." Other officers disagree. They claim that, from a tactical point of view, Israel needs to withdraw completely from the evacuated areas and totally separate from the Palestinians while creating defensible borders. This view, however, does not seem to be on the table for now. Gaza is already turning into a "terror island," and without IDF presence in the West Bank, some officers warn, the same thing could happen there.