Operation Defensive Shield, which ended on Sunday so that President George W. Bush could produce credentials of honesty for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, claimed the lives of 30 soldiers. That's about the same number of lives lost in two other important Israel Defense Forces operations against the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasser Arafat. The first was Karameh, in Jordan, in 1968; and the second was the Litani Operation, in Lebanon, in 1987.
Despite exaggerations by the politicians, Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz and the media, Operation Defensive Shield was not a war. It was an operation - wide-scale, using many forces and long-lasting - but it wasn't a war, merely another chapter in the book that began with Karameh and continued with Litani.
The operation's military planners wanted to tear the fabric of terror into shreds, whether by killing or capturing. For the most part, they were successful. The simplistic statement that every individual can be replaced does not take into account the significant difficulty involved in finding a quality replacement. Sometimes even the replacement isn't a replacement. If Franklin Roosevelt had died six months earlier, his heir would have been the aging Henry Wallace, and not the new vice-president Harry Truman - and the history of the world, the atom bomb and Israel would have been very different.
Marwan and Ahmed Barghouti are far from being Theodore or Franklin Roosevelt, nor is Nasser Awis reminiscent of Harry Truman. But their departure from the territories, coupled with the removal of another dozen of their ilk, will seriously damage the capabilities of the Tanzim, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad - but not forever, and not everywhere. Their temporary weakness in the territories could result in increased efforts to attack Israeli and Jewish targets overseas and to develop chemical, biological and radiological weapons.
Closer to home, for the coming months, however, the terrorist organizations are seriously wounded. Combat doctors know how quickly seriously wounded soldiers can bounce back, becoming moderately wounded or lightly hurt. But the weakness weighs down on their ability to function. In addition to the bomb and munitions factories, the IDF and Shin Bet security service are talking about harm done to "centers of knowledge" - a term borrowed from the army, where people with specialized knowledge are promoted from outside the system because of their unique know-how. In the terror organizations, the centers of knowledge are the explosive experts, the planners, and the logisticians.
Of the two tail ends of the operation, at the Church of the Nativity and Arafat's Ramallah compound, the Bethlehem crisis is relatively easy to solve. The Palestinians have been using their own holy places as gun emplacements since 1948, when they fired from the Mosque of Omar; Ben-Gurion praised the defenders of Jerusalem for not firing back. The Catholic Church, up to its neck with the pedophilia scandal, is not exactly on a high moral stage from which to preach right now.
The chairman of the authority is in an even more complex situation than the Pope. Sharon will let Arafat out, but Arafat is being held hostage by Fuad Shubeiki and the suspects in the assassination of cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi; because if Arafat leaves Ramallah, he'll be leaving behind his proteges. Unless there is a regrettable working accident in the compound, eliminating Shubeiki and the members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Arafat will remain grounded there indefinitely.
Sharon insults Israeli public opinion when he claims it is clamoring for the extradition of Ze'evi's killers. The Israeli public is no more or less interested in Ze'evi's killers than in any of the other killers. They'll forgive Sharon if he gives in on the issue. They won't forgive him if he does not lead a political initiative from the position of strength the operation has provided.
Military doctrine says to transfer the fighting to enemy territory. That's how the suicide bombers - the war criminals - did it; and that's how the IDF did it, in its justified chase after their commanders. The efforts of the fighters will be in vain if the politicians do not exploit the momentum to also move peace into enemy territory. The operation's achievements will be ephemeral if Sharon wastes the lull in terror that has been purchased with blood.
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