The IDF is getting ready for the next round of fighting. General staff members are sure it is coming, but none have a clue where it will lead and what its goals should be. To try to understand the directions the IDF could choose for the next round, and their chance of success, first it's worth examining the lessons from Operation Defensive Shield. An analysis of the operation's results shows that as opposed to the way it has been presented, there was no great military victory. If the purpose of the fighting was, as declared at the outset, "to defeat" terror, it turned out that was an impossible goal. Those same officers who repeatedly claimed it was possible to eliminate terrorism on the condition that the army would be allowed to use massive force in Area A, have begun changing their tune. It's no longer eliminating terror but recognition that there can only be an effort to minimize its dimensions.
But even the military activity did not always excel at efficiency and professionalism, and particularly suffered from short-term thinking even at the operative level. The IDF's explanation that not using the air force and artillery was the reason for what went wrong in Jenin, cannot hide the fact that the army was forced to fight for more than 10 days and pay a high price in human lives to take over a refugee camp where a few dozen fighters were hiding. The failure was inherent to faulty planning, improper use of forces, and lack of foreseeing the results. If the decision was made to occupy a refugee camp, why do it after more than a week of fighting, thereby giving the Palestinians ample time to prepare for the battle?
Those who decided to conquer the Jenin refugee camp not only were wrong in assessing the intelligence data, but also in understanding the ramifications of fighting there. It makes no difference that the IDF managed to occupy the camp - in any case the battle will go down as the Stalingrad of the Palestinian nation. And that doesn't count the insensitivity and basic lack of understanding on the part of those who spent more than 10 days preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the camp.
So far, nobody has explained what made the IDF decide to prevent doctors from entering Jenin to treat the wounded and evacuate the corpses. Not only could the UN fact-finding mission, and tales of a massacre, have been avoided, but also it would have been possible to win some public opinion points by presenting the IDF as an army considerate of the civilian population.
And how could it be that none of the planners expected that in the IDF's move on Bethlehem, the armed suspects would seek refuge in the Church of the Nativity? Why didn't army forces surround the church before the move into the center of the town?
When the post-operation inquiries take place, another matter for investigation will be the scandalously unprepared reserve force. Why wasn't there food for the reservists? Why, more than a week after being drafted, did fighters have to make do, at the end of a day's combat, with candy from the Shekem canteen? If that's the level of logistical readiness in the army, there's reason to worry.
The army clings to slogans like "destroying the infrastructure" and "arresting top wanted men," but that cannot hide the truth. For such a wide-scale operation, the results, to say the least, are not impressive. Most of the wanted men were not caught, and talk about "eliminating the terrorist infrastructure" is meaningless. What was destroyed were the civil infrastructures, like electricity, water and computer systems, as well as the political leadership. Will that prevent terror in the future? The IDF answer comes without hesitation: on the contrary, the motivation to harm Israelis and take revenge has only grown.
Therefore, the conclusion - which the entire top echelon of the army accepts - is that after Defensive Shield, the terrorist attacks will resume, and the IDF won't have any choice but to return to Area A. The problem is that it seems the next time will include fighting in Gaza. If the IDF indeed goes into Gaza, then what happened in Jenin will be by comparison a pleasant hike.
The one thing everyone can take pride in is that there was one thing over which there was no dispute: the need to increase the defense budget immediately. Nobody seriously examined how much the fighting cost and whether the IDF deployed its enormous resources efficiently before it took only a few minutes to be authorized an additional NIS 2 billion. On the other hand, maybe they'll finally get around to buying food for the reservists.
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