A West Bank Victory

An article in Issue 17, December 8, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Terror has been defeated in the West Bank. Israel has managed to register a clear victory against the menace; even though isolated bombings, shootings or stabbings may still occur, the backbones of the terrorist military organizations have been broken. This is a major achievement that must not be wasted. It has taken six years - since Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 - of systematic effort to reach this result, including nightly raids, usually by small detachments, into Palestinian towns and villages to arrest or kill terrorists, concentrated and focused coordination between all branches of the defense establishment, and above all, acquisition of accurate, real-time pinpointed intelligence. This achievement must be credited to the Shin Bet's ability to crack the terror networks by making them transparent and creating an almost intimate closeness to the top terrorist operatives. At this point, all of the participants in this sacred campaign agree that the West Bank has been thoroughly cleansed of active terrorist networks. Of course, sleeper cells may still lay dormant here and there, and there is always the danger that a new network, about which there is no information as yet, is in the process of being set up. However, the production line of suicide bombers, explosive belts and roadside bombs has been totally destroyed. And attempts to manufacture homemade rockets, like the Qassams in Gaza, have not succeeded anywhere on the West Bank, thanks to the Israeli raids. The final phase of this confrontation, directed against the Islamic Jihad terror network, has been taking place over the last year and a half in the Jenin - Tulqarm sector in the northern West Bank. Fifteen terrorists have been killed and some 150 have been captured, and stores of weapons and explosives have been uncovered. Jenin, which had been the terrorists' capital city since the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, has become a model of peacefulness - so much so, that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ventured there during her early-November visit to the region. The Israeli army has permitted a battalion of the Palestinian National Security Forces, trained in a special camp near Amman, Jordan, under the supervision of U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, to deploy in the Jenin area, where it continues to systematically harass Hamas and Jihad militants by acting against their "civilian" infrastructure: mosques, charities, businesses and educational and health institutions. The level of coordination between the Palestinian commanders and their Israeli counterparts is surprisingly high, and the cooperation is producing results daily. A second Palestinian battalion has completed the training in Jordan and now operates in Hebron, where it has racked up considerable success against Hamas terror cells and stymied the Islamist movement's other functions. All this, however, has not convinced Israel to transfer full responsibility for security in these cities to the Palestinian officers. The Israeli army and the Shin Bet have reserved the right to operate independently when they see fit, although the need for such operations is steadily decreasing. Accordingly, we can expect to see additional sectors in which Palestinian forces are operating, with the arrival of four more battalions that are scheduled to train in Jordan. Parts of the rural district between Hebron and Bethlehem will be soon handed over to them, as will the villages and countryside surrounding Jenin. But the process is too protracted and tedious. In Nablus, for example, an attempt to deploy Palestinian forces to enforce law and order failed, and another attempt will have to be made in the future. Furthermore, Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas and Prime Minister Salem Fayyad have not yet succeeded at another daunting task: the unification of the different Palestinian intelligence agencies under a single, effective, command. The early November ousting of Gen. Taufik Tirawi as head of General Intelligence was a step in the right direction, but not sufficient in itself. The significance of these developments is in the emergence of a new security framework in the West Bank: The Palestinians are taking the direct struggle against Hamas and Islamic Jihad into their own hands, while Israel remains in the background - poised to act, but preferring to leave it to the Palestinians. That which could never have happened in the days of Yasser Arafat is happening: effective partnership against terror. But this partnership would never have developed if Israel had not, on its own, eradicated the terrorist menace first. And, of course, what motivates the Palestinian troops now is the realization that if they do not act forcefully now - Hamas is bound to ultimately take over the West Bank. In order preserve and develop this pattern further, it is important to take care not to assign the Palestinian units tasks that are beyond their ability; to retain the authority of the Israeli security forces to intervene in special circumstances; and to strictly maintain a fair system of cooperation. And it is crucially important to guarantee that the "new order" in Jenin and Hebron and elsewhere is accompanied by economic momentum. The plans for such momentum exist, but the money promised by the "donor states" - and especially the Arab states - has not been forthcoming. Rapid improvement in the economic atmosphere is a virtual prerequisite for the stabilization of the security achievements, but these improvements lag far behind. Removal of Israeli army roadblocks alone will not bring a sense of prosperity and progress. The slogan should read: "Money Now!" • An article in Issue 17, December 8, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.