ANALYSIS: Jericho burning

IDF 'pressure pot' tactic force Ze'evi's killer Ahmad Sa'adat to surrender.

yair naveh 298 88 idf (photo credit: IDF [file])
yair naveh 298 88 idf
(photo credit: IDF [file])
Israel waited five years to get its hands on Rehavam Ze'evi's killers and on Tuesday it finally got its chance. While the Palestinians and parts of the international world accused Israel of launching an unnecessary military operation in the sleepy and relatively quiet town of Jericho, the IDF claimed Tuesday night that it was only doing what any country would do - seeking justice. If anyone was to blame for the operation, senior officers said, it was primarily the PA which failed to ensure the safety of the British and US guards at the prison but also the foreigners who fled the city without coordinating the move with their Israeli counterparts while giving Ahmed Sa'adat the opportunity to walk away unhindered. But despite the lack of coordination, the army was not completely taken by surprise and had been preparing for the operation over the last several days. While the forces were not deployed at Jericho's front door, they were on standby and succeeded in arriving at the prison compound within a matter of minutes after the foreign guards withdrew. Senior officers, including OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh told reporters Tuesday night that Israel only made its final decision to act after soldiers stationed at the IDF checkpoint at the entrance to the Palestinian city saw the prison guards pass through. "We saw them pass through the checkpoint and then realized that the prisoners including Sa'adat were left unguarded," a senior officer told The Jerusalem Post in the mid-afternoon on the outskirts of Jericho. "At that point, knowing that the PA would not behave responsibly, we were left with no choice but to invade the city." The operation that ensued was long and complicated and put the army under international pressure to back down and give the Palestinians a chance to retake the prison and independently lock up Sa'adat and the other wanted men. But Israel stood firm and as Naveh later explained: "The blood of an Israeli minister [Ze'evi] will not be forfeited and the perpetrators will be hunted down." But the operation also played a second role by which Israel clearly showed the world and primarily Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that it would not stand by idly as anarchy and Hamas begin to sweep through the PA territories. With the radical terror group set to form a new government by the beginning of next week, some IDF officers predicted Tuesday that Jericho-like operations might need to be carried out now on a more frequent basis. But overall the army was happy with the operation's results. No Israeli casualties and only a handful on the Palestinian side. While on the outside the operation appeared to be dragging on and the army seemed to lose control as helicopters fired missiles and artillery cannons shot shells at the jail compound, senior officers claimed everything was done with one goal - to force the wanted men out and to prevent Israeli forces from having to storm the building. An armory in the prison, the officers said, was taken over by the wanted men and a raid on the building would have most likely drawn additional casualties and possibly ended with a dead Sa'adat - not in Israel's best interest. The army turned the Palestinian prison into a "pressure pot" and fired the missiles and shells at lots surrounding the building while D-9 bulldozers knocked down nearby walls. In the end, the tactic succeeded and forced the wanted men to surrender and give up without having to send the elite police SWAT team - Yamam - into the prison building. But even with the operation deemed a success, the army is far from reaching the stage where it can put up its feet. The repercussions of the operation were already felt Tuesday afternoon as Palestinian gunmen took nine hostages in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and set ablaze the British Council offices in Gaza. So while Ze'evi's killers are finally behind Israeli bars, the army will now need to brace itself for expected retaliatory attacks and a possible escalation on the Palestinian front.