The Palestinian cease-fire, the developments on the ground since it was declared, and the signs of a sincere desire on the part of the Mahmoud Abbas government to fulfill its commitments "are significant moments that could appear, in retrospect, to be an end to the violent round that began in September 2000" and give a chance to the political process, according to a senior IDF officer reflecting the views of Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon.
As to whether the IDF regards this as a "victory," the officer replied, "certainly."
The officer said the main danger of terror attacks in the upcoming weeks will originate from the cells of the Tanzim's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Popular Resistance committees in certain parts of Gaza, the Ahmed Jibril faction of the Popular Front, as well as from an Iranian effort, based in Lebanon, to strike at Israeli targets.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad are sticking to the discipline of their decision to halt armed attacks, said the officer, to a large extent because of the series of Israeli assassinations that caused concern for the lives of their leadership and the survival of their organizations. In the new stabilizing security situation, Israel will only undertake "targeted prevention" against activists or suicide bombers on their way to an operation, and then only as a last resort if it is unable to stop them by itself or by passing over information to the Palestinian Authority.
Once the PA completes its reorganization this month, Israel will not insist on collecting all the weapons in the hands of the militias, but rather will demand immediately that the authority "plug," not "disarm," the rifles being held by the armed factions, and that it dismantle the "terror infrastructure," including the financial resources and incitement within the mosques. The focus is on the munitions that are used only for terror attacks - bombs, Qassam rockets, mortars. Personal weapons, which for decades have been both a life insurance policy and a yardstick for respect in Palestinian society, may remain in the hands of the militiamen as long as they are stored and not publicly displayed.
As opposed to the Oslo process, which was also based on a dimension of security cooperation between Israel and Palestinian forces, the Aqaba process will be based as much as possible on the principle of separation and prevention of friction between Israelis and Palestinians.
In effect, like the British empire at the end of World War II, the IDF is now saying "we won, but went broke." The dilution of forces in the territories, including the cancelation of a planned call-up of reserve brigades, is only the tip of the iceberg of the huge defense cut in the next five years, especially the next three years, when some 3,000 career soldiers, nearly 1 out of 10, will be fired to save between 10-15 percent of manpower costs, and the savings will be used for increasing the IDF's overall power.
The army will dump veteran weapons systems and emphasize investments in intelligence, the air force (particularly unmanned aerial vehicles), the navy, counter-terror systems, and research and development.
Compared to the 2002 budget, the IDF will lose NIS 5.2 billion each year in the next five years - a total of about NIS 26 billion. The general staff is ready to forgo NIS 10 billion, but will beg the government to reinstate some NIS 16 billion. Some of the savings can be attributed to the fact that the American army is parked in Iraq, between Iran and Syria, in a way that puts an end to the supply flights from the Revolutionary Guards in Tehran to Damascus, and from there to Hezbollah.
The events leading up to the cease-fire are important and indeed fateful, preceded in importance only by the opening of fire in September 2000 and Operation Defensive Shield in the spring of 2002. For much less, all previous chiefs of staff, and more than any, the former IDF head and current Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, would convene a press conference to deliver a briefing to the nation on the situation. This time, the IDF restrained itself and kept silent for half a week, a childish response to the critics who said the army was speaking out on matters that it shouldn't. When the army noticed it was being left far behind - even the normally reticent Shin Bet chief had his word in public - it sent the senior officer to the front.
The "senior official" on Henry Kissinger's plane during the 1970s shuttle flights knew that everyone would conclude he was the same as Kissinger. The code had a double purpose: to give Kissinger maneuverability and a diplomatic edge without cementing him into public statements that thus became policy, and to avoid angering the level above him, making them jealous with his glamour. In Israel, if a significant statement is attributed to a senior officer - and it isn't followed up by an IDF Spokesman's Office announcement that the chief of staff reprimanded the officer - it's permissible to assume that the statement reflects the chief of staff's views and are acceptable to him.
The deliberations over whether to stand up by name and officially make the statements is not because of the content, but because of the sensitivity of the relationship with the other side and the political echelon.
Ya'alon finishes his first year in office next week, a period that he described from the start as "the year of decision" in the conflict with the Palestinians. For the 33 months of the conflict he never hid his view: the purpose of the Israeli war was to reach a "consciousness decision in the conflict," meaning bringing the Palestinians to the understanding that they had no chance to achieve any accomplishments through terror.
That was a national goal, and not only a military one, and Ya'alon often complained about the contradiction between the conciliatory political means during the Barak administration or later during Shimon Peres' courting of Arafat in the Sharon administration, and the security wall Ya'alon hoped to place opposite the terror.
Now, with a cease-fire finally in place and interim summations being drawn up, Ya'alon has the right to feel satisfied. What he expected back in September 200, as deputy chief of staff, has come true. The Palestinian government agrees that terror does not pay, and is starting to take real steps to implement the appropriate policy.
In one word that means "victory," though Ya'alon prefers the term "decision," even though it's not necessarily the last word. The victory is over Arafat and his approach, not over the Palestinians as a community. And it was achieved at a heavy price. The Palestinians can also declare they won, said the senior officer, and in a way that is good news, similar to the way the peace process with Egypt opened only after both sides could claim victory, each with its own interpretation of the results of the Yom Kippur War.
The senior officer's statements yesterday positioned Ya'alon to the left of Mofaz, part of the front hoping for success in the political process. The difference between them isn't great, only between a skeptic and someone suspicious, but style also influences policy. The defense minister frowns and formulates his views in negative terms; his bank won't give the Palestinians much credit. Ya'alon is ready to show more patience.
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