When commanders need to ask for permission

The IDF is clearly losing its patience with the restraint policy while non-stop rocket attacks continue.

soldier aims 298.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
soldier aims 298.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Thursday was supposed to be just another routine day for Judea and Samaria Division head Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan. The intelligence arrived at division headquarters in Beit El from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in the morning regarding Rabia Hamad, a wanted Aksa Martyrs Brigades operative who had been pursued by the IDF for the last two years. According to the intelligence supplied by the Shin Bet, Hamad was hiding in an office building near Manara Square in downtown Ramallah. Golan called up Central Command headquarters in Jerusalem's Neveh Ya'acov neighborhood and asked his commander, Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh, for permission to go ahead with the arrest raid. The two officers discussed the pros and cons. Entering Ramallah in the middle of the day - even with a small and undercover elite unit - was risky although it had been done 12 times before in the past year. The officers also spoke about the concurrent visit by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Sharm e-Sheikh for a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the effect a botched raid could have on the summit. In the end, the officers decided to approve the operation. "The chances of success were deemed higher than the chance of failure," explained a high-ranking officer. The rest is history. The elite squad entered the city, was discovered and then Palestinian riots began, giving the green light for the Duhifat Battalion waiting at a staging area outside the city to enter. At least three Palestinians were killed and 30 wounded. Hamad, who was shot and reportedly seriously wounded, escaped arrest. On Sunday, a high-ranking officer involved in the planning of the operation admitted that the operation had been a mistake. To be sure, Hamad was a worthy target. Military sources said he was behind at least eight shooting attacks, which killed at least one Israeli and wounded a dozen more, in the Ramallah area. He also was suspected of involvement in additional large-scale terror activity throughout the West Bank. "When we have the opportunity we need to go after the target," explained one officer. "If we don't we can lose him for a month and who knows what he will do during that time and how many people he will kill." Unfortunately, though, things are not that simple. Take the Gaza Strip for example. There, Israel has abided by a policy of restraint for the past month without responding to the non-stop daily Kassam rocket attacks. The IDF is clearly losing its patience and OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant has asked several times for permission to take military action against the Kassam infrastructure. Olmert, however, has rejected the request, with diplomatic officials explaining that Israel - through its policy of restraint - is gaining major points on the international field. "When we will decide to respond, we will have far more legitimacy on the international level than we would have had without the policy of restraint," explained one official in Jerusalem. This is also true for the Ramallah scenario. It is basically the same equation. The Central Command got intelligence about Hamad, and acted upon it, like the way Galant would like to act in Gaza. Golan and Naveh cannot be blamed for thinking like IDF officers. They are trained to think in terms of "thwarting attacks" and "preventing terror" and not about the "diplomatic effect" their operations can have on Olmert's meetings. That is what the chief of staff is for: to coordinate operations with the diplomatic echelon.