Since replacing Ariel Sharon in office last December, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused to permit a large-scale IDF incursion into the Gaza Strip. The hundreds of rockets, mortars and missiles that have rendered the Western Negev's population and economy hostage to Palestinian rocket crews could not budge him from his refusal to take the war to the enemy. Indeed, for months he ignored the pleas of residents of Sderot and told the IDF to suffice with artillery fire into empty fields and aerial bombings of terrorists en route to launching rockets.
The fact that Israel's intelligence collection capabilities in Gaza were grievously undermined in the aftermath of last summer's withdrawal; the fact that IDF commanders acknowledge that more weaponry has been brought into Gaza in the past ten months than entered in the previous 38 years, made no impression. Repeated reports of Al Qaida opening shop in Gaza and of Iranian Revolutionary Guards units training Fatah and Hamas members in the destroyed Israeli communities were dismissed as unimportant, irrelevant and insignificant.
Olmert refused to send forces into Gaza to contend with the transformation of Gaza into a strategic threat to Israel because doing so would involve acknowledging that his plan to retreat from Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem will turn Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Hadera, Afula and Beersheba into frontline communities. He refused to send forces into Gaza because doing so would demonstrate that Israel cannot defend its cities from their outskirts.
He refused to send forces into Gaza because it would involve an acknowledgment that Israel is at war and that the war cannot be ignored by building walls or inciting the public against Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria.
He refused to send forces into Gaza because doing so would be tantamount to admitting that all territory abandoned by the IDF is taken over by Israel's enemies.
He refused to send forces into Gaza or take concerted action against Palestinian terror leaders because, as the nasty upbraiding that Israel suffered Thursday at the hands of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her colleagues at the G-8 showed, the international community sees Israeli counter-terror operations in the aftermath of the withdrawal from Gaza as no more legitimate than its counter-terror operations before the withdrawal.
So does the fact that this week Olmert finally permitted forces to reenter Gaza mean that he now gets it? Does Olmert's decision to arrest Hamas parliamentarians and government ministers in Judea and Samaria in spite of Condi's objections signal that he has accepted that Israel must destroy its enemies' capacity to attack its territory, its forces and its citizens? Does the fact that Olmert ordered IAF jets to overfly Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's palace mean that he understands that the war being fought against Israel is part of the global jihad?
Unfortunately, a close look at Olmert's counter-terror measures makes clear that, no, in spite of the wailing of the international press corps, and the whining of the State Department and its European and Russian counterparts, in fact, Olmert still refuses to get it.
Olmert and his associates in the government have pointed their fingers at Hamas, blaming it for the Palestinian guerrilla attack on Israeli territory Sunday morning while ignoring Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah terror group's equal share of culpability. It was Fatah, not Hamas, that kidnapped and murdered 18-year-old Eliahu Asheri. It is Fatah that is threatening to blow up Israeli embassies abroad. It is Fatah that is threatening to renew shooting attacks on Jerusalem and attack Israel with chemical and biological weapons. It is Fatah that is threatening to kill the IDF hostage Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
While Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin was preparing the list of Hamas leaders IDF forces arrested in Judea and Samaria Wednesday night, Abbas was finalizing his deal with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh for the formation of a Hamas-Fatah unity government. Abbas and Haniyeh not only agreed to form a unity government, they also agreed that Hamas would become a member of the PLO. Aside from that, they agreed to establish a unified force for fighting their joint war against Israel. That is, this week, as Israel trained its rifles on Hamas alone, Abbas effectively unified Hamas with Fatah.
Rather than contending with this development, Olmert and his colleagues chose to ignore it. And this makes sense of course. Acknowledging that Fatah and Hamas are equally at war with Israel would mean that Israel has no option of giving away Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem to any of these groups.
Olmert's decision to blame Syria for Sunday's attack on Kerem Shalom is similarly problematic. Yes, it is true that the orders for Hamas's major operations, (like those of Fatah and Islamic Jihad) come from Syria and Teheran. The fact that the government is acknowledging that the war being fought against Israel is not simply a dispute between Palestinians and Israelis about the partition of the western part of the Land of Israel is, on the face of it, a welcome development. Unfortunately, the government's acknowledgement of the foreign command of the Palestinian war against Israel is being used not as a justification for fighting, but as a justification for not fighting.
Olmert has used Syria's role in ordering attacks against Israel as a way of letting the local terror commanders Abbas and Haniyeh off the hook. Rather than recognize that they are both subordinate to and supportive of Damascus and Teheran's terror war strategy against Israel, Olmert and his associates are using the foreign elements of the war as a way to say that the Palestinians are not responsible even though they are the ones carrying out the operations on the ground.
As to the current IDF operation in Gaza, it is fairly clear that whatever accomplishments the IDF may achieve over the next few days, Olmert will call for a retreat rather than enable those tactical accomplishments to become translated into an enhanced strategic environment for Israel. Olmert, whose primary goal as prime minister is to reenact the failed withdrawal from Gaza twenty-fold in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem cannot enable the Israeli public to see proof on its television screens night after night that the withdrawal was an abysmal failure. The footage that the Israeli public has seen every night since Sunday shows them with absolute clarity that the country was safer when the Israeli communities separating Gaza from Ashkelon and Egypt were still standing and when the IDF was deployed in Gaza protecting southern Israel and keeping the border with Egypt quiet.
Making this point absolutely clear, this week Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz paved the way for new pictures to be seen on the television screens next week. Amidst the military earthquake in the south, the two men repeated their intention to destroy four communities in Judea and Samaria next week. What they refuse to recognize is that while doing so may confuse the public for awhile about whom its real enemy is, the footage from their planned operation will destroy in one fell swoop any accomplishments the IDF may garner this week in Gaza. Pictures of Israeli police and military forces forcibly removing Israelis from their homes will prove to the Palestinians—once again—that their hope to destroy Israel through jihad is well-founded.
When one compares Olmert's management of the current crisis with former prime minister Ariel Sharon's management of Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002, the fact that this operation is not serious becomes manifestly clear. On March 29, 2002 Sharon announced the cabinet's decision that precipitated Operation Defensive Shield. In his words, "Israel will act to defeat the terror infrastructure—all its component parts and facets." He further announced that Yasser Arafat "is the enemy." The reason Defensive Shield was a success is not because in its aftermath the Palestinian terror infrastructure in Judea and Samaria was destroyed. Indeed, shortly after it was officially concluded there was a suicide bombing in Rishon Lezion. In fact, the terror never really stopped at all. Defensive Shield was a success because it set the conditions for making it impossible for the Palestinians to carry out an effective terror offensive from Judea and Samaria. During Defensive Shield, the IDF reasserted its security control over the Palestinian towns and villages in the areas, a control it has not relinquished.
Because it remains in control of the area, rather than being forced to kill terrorists from the air, as is done in Gaza where the IDF never reasserted its control, in Judea and Samaria every night, forces go into the homes of terrorists and arrest them in their beds with no collateral damage. And every day, because the IDF is in charge, it is able to enhance its intelligence capabilities. Those enhanced capabilities in turn make it possible for the silent nightly raids that keep Israelis safe in their beds to continue.
But while Defensive Shield's goal was to "defeat the terror infrastructure," the current Operation Summer Rains in Gaza has set as its goal returning Cpl. Shalit to Israel. Olmert and Peretz hope to somehow convince Hamas and Fatah and their bosses in Damascus and Teheran that they are better off coughing up Shalit. They are supposed to think this even though Israel has made it clear that it won't stay in Gaza and is dead set—regardless of the outcome of Summer Rains—on giving them Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.
On Monday, Meretz leader MK Yossi Beilin told Olmert that his party, like the Arab parties, will not support Olmert's plan to retreat from Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem because Olmert plans to retain control of some 5-10 percent of Judea and Samaria for the long haul. Two weeks ago Beilin met with the EU's External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and elicited from her a clear EU rejection of Olmert's plan to determine Israel's borders. Beilin told The Jerusalem Post that Israel must surrender all the Israeli communities to the Palestinians and sign a deal with Abbas to this effect even if Abbas is incapable or unwilling to uphold any pledge to fight terrorism.
In staking out this position, Beilin is repeating his actions towards then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak after the outbreak of the Palestinian terror war in September 2000. Beilin, who served as justice minister in Barak's government, saw that Barak had lost all security credibility with the failure of his peace talks and his inability to take effective actions against the Palestinian terror offensive. Beilin understood that what Barak feared most was the fall of his government and new elections. Because of this, Beilin was able to force Barak to adopt still more accomodationist positions after the outbreak of the Palestinian terror war than he had proposed at Camp David in July 2000. Beilin convinced Barak to agree to the transfer of the Temple Mount and the Jordan Valley to the PLO.
Olmert, like Barak, was brought to power as the head of the leftist coalition. If Olmert loses that support base, his government could easily fall. In light of this, and given the fact that through his actions and inactions Olmert has made clear that he remains unwilling to reconsider his policy of surrendering Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem to terrorists, it is hard to imagine that his decision to approve the IDF's operations in Gaza and the arrest of Hamas leaders will have any ameliorative effect on Israel's security situation. In short, the limited nature of this week's IDF operations makes clear that Olmert still refuses to get it.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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