At the climax of an extremely tense evening at Kfar Maimon on Wednesday night, one TV correspondent announced, without realizing the significance of what he was saying, that "a confrontation is inevitable, unless a compromise is reached."
Yesterday, after the tension had subsided and both sides took a break for the Sabbath, it transpired that the crisis had been resolved during secret talks between police chief Moshe Karadi, Southern District Commander Uri Bar-Lev and Yesha settlement leaders Pinhas Wallerstein, Bentzi Lieberman and Avner Shimoni, who were backed-up by MKs former and present Effi Eitam and Hanan Porat.
The two sides agreed that the anti-disengagement crowd would begin to move within the encircled compound, but would be stopped before they encountered the living wall of soldiers and policemen. Karadi told the others that the police could not afford a failure, i.e. a retreat that allowed the crowd to march toward Gush Katif, but that he understood that the demonstrators would not disperse without first mounting an impressive display of protest. We must achieve a golden mean in the space between these two poles, Karadi said.
Bar-Lev, a former commander of the IDF's elite Duvdevan unit who lost a leg when he stepped on a mine while he was a Engineering Corps company commander in the Northern Command, preferred to cite Mao Tse Tung, who spoke about laying down a bridge of gold for the enemy's retreat.
Whether a golden bridge or a golden mean, the formula which ultimately worked was an internal march, avoiding friction with the security forces. It was a winning formula, as long as it could be enforced on the crowd. During the previous three days, the weakness displayed by the leadership of the anti-disengagement protesters in disciplining their followers was the Achilles heel souring attempts at dialogue between the sides.
This time, however, the leaders of the demonstrators came to their senses and placed their own bodies between their followers and the enforcers of the law. A confrontation was prevented - until the next time, after the Yesha council convenes and makes its decisions on Sunday morning.
National Police headquarters is tensely waiting for these decisions: They know that in a war of attrition, achievements are cumulative, not measured by the results of that day's battle.
The mobilization of security forces this week was extravagant. The dissipation of the Kfar Maimon crisis should not mislead: the IDF (which provided most of the force) and the police will not be able to keep up such efforts for a long period of time, especially if the settlers mobilize all their numbers and develop a double- (or even more) pronged strategy.
The police explained their crowd control philosophy in two ways. First, a lesson learned from the October 2000 riots: too large a force, which gives the individual policeman a sense of security, encouraging him to refrain from employing violence, is preferable to a too small force, which makes him feel threatened.
Second, among all the nearly 20,000 soldiers and policemen, there was only a small commando force of 600 policemen who were there to physically clash with the demonstrators if they tried to break out. The bulk of soldiers were there to create deterrence and prevent a clash.
The IDF - this time in a supporting role - and the police met at the headquarters in Ein Hashlosha and at the point of contention at Kfar Maimon like the Prince and the Pauper - each bringing its own organizational culture and wisdom, the army somewhat spoiled and endowed with vast resources, the police impoverished but rich in contact with civilians; the one used to giving orders, the other also knowing when to make requests.
It was easy to see that relations between the senior officers in each organization were better than those within each organization. The IDF General Staff and the Police National Headquarters said this week that cooperation between the two security bodies was finely honed and practiced earlier in the week. Chief of Staff Dan Halutz was said to have demonstrated tremendous cool-headedness and an uncompromising stance vis-a-vis the demonstrators, refusers and even the Palestinian Authority, demanding full and unflinching responsibility from all parties.
The quartet of Halutz-Harel-Bar-Lev-Karadi will bear most of the responsibility for the evacuation. Last night, Halutz, Karadi and Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin attended graduation ceremonies at the National Security College for high ranking officers. At least two of the school's graduates, who are destined to take command of regular infantry brigades, will be quickly swept up into the disengagement operations. The police, it was abundantly clear even before Kfar Maimon, do not have sufficient forces to carry out the evacuations in Gaza and northern Samaria simultaneously, without reinforcement from the IDF.
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