As the terrorist attacks come fast and furious, there is no doubt that many Israelis are in raptures over the sights and sounds emanating from the Arafat compound: Arafat eating tinned meat loaf from IDF army rations, Arafat sitting in candlelight, Arafat talking sparingly on his cell phone because there's no electricity to charge the batteries due to "some malfunction" at the East Jerusalem Electric Company.
Sharon can say the same thing he said in Lebanon: He was in our gun-sight but we didn't shoot on orders from Begin. Now Arafat is in our gun-sight again, but this time it's the gun-sight of a tank. And again, Sharon is being asked to curb his desires, by Bush, and by the government, which, in a fleeting attack of wisdom, prevented Arafat from being driven out of the territories under Palestinian Authority control.
But Sharon is a known quantity in these parts. An idea that gets stuck in his head is like the gun that appears in Act I, which is sure to be fired before the curtain falls. Twenty years ago, he presented the government with two plans for the Lebanon War: "Big Cedars" (marching on Beirut) and "Little Cedars" (stopping at 40 kilometers). The government approved the little plan, but Sharon went ahead and did what he had figured on doing from the start.
The more Arafat is humiliated, the more terror will multiply. Sharon will soon discover that a jailed, humiliated Arafat can inflict more damage than an Arafat on the loose. In the long run, Sharon may act on his first instinct. If I were an insurance company, you couldn't tempt me to insure Arafat for any premium in the world.
The main question right now is how to define this "rolling offensive" in PA territory. Is it a penalizing, retaliatory operation meant to mollify an angry public? Is it an operation that could lead to the reoccupation of all the territories, as proposed by Netanyahu? Has any date been set for wrapping it up? What constitutes a victory?
None of the ministers I asked could give me a straight answer, apart from that pat phrase about "rooting out terror." The debate in the Knesset did not deal with strategy. The ministers seem pretty much in the dark about where this rolling offensive is actually rolling to. PR officials in Israel are talking about a military offensive to wipe out terrorist infrastructure, period.
It's hard to believe that a moderate, intelligent man like Meir Sheetrit thinks "we can wipe out terror in a month and then go back to peace talks." It's so simple, you just want to die laughing. Talking about "wiping out terror" at the moment is almost as stupid as saying "Let the IDF win." After all, we've been in the cities and refugee camps before. What did we achieve? Did we put a stop to anything?
It's not a matter of two or three terrorist organizations that you can get rid of and say "goodbye terror." Nowadays, terror is the privatization of the Palestinian struggle. As Peres says, you only need 10 people to send out a suicide bomber, but you need thousands of people to nab him once he's out there.
"Terrorist infrastructure" sometimes amounts to no more than one muezzin with a big mouth and one gullible kid who decides that he is ready to die. Unlike members of a classic guerrilla cell, the suicide bomber doesn't need an escape route. While preparing for an Iranian or Iraqi attack with non-conventional weapons, Israel now faces the suicide bomber - a human-guided missile and one-man non-conventional weapon. And they don't grow in underground laboratories. They grow out of hatred, out of a sense of despair and defeat. This kind of terror cannot be eradicated by military force alone.
All wars need a political objective. But that is precisely what Operation "Protective Wall" lacks. Sharon has no policy or strategy for the "day after." At this stage of his life, he should be able to come up with a proposal for evacuating settlements that are problematic, also for us. In so doing, he would offer some hope, however slight, to those on the other side who have sunk to the depths of despair, and also establish himself as someone desirous of reaching an agreement. Instead, he is igniting a huge blaze that he expects to put out with a cease-fire. Without one he is destined to fall like his predecessors.
But there could be one last surprise in this bloody poker game: if someone whips out the joker - in this case, American-monitored international intervention with a large peacekeeping force that will bring about a cease-fire and restart dialogue, which is the only way of reaching an agreement. It seems doubtful that we will ever get out of this mess on our own.
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