In order to assess soberly the new "buffer zones" operational scheme improvised by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his speech to the nation late last week, it is worth reviewing previous initiatives he devised and carried out in the campaign against Palestinian terror, as well as the rationale and descriptions he applied to these plans. The picture that emerges from this review speaks for itself.
-In March 2001, shortly after his election as prime minister, Sharon ordered closures of five cities in the West Bank. At the time, this policy was considered to be a major stiffening of Israeli responses to Palestinian terror attacks.
-A few days later, after some shells fell on Nahal Oz, Sharon ordered air force helicopters to attack six targets in Ramallah. This step too was seen as an escalation in Israel's operational approach. Sharon told his detractors that they should suspend criticism and wait for the results of his policies; he promised that security would be restored. He explained that he was utilizing a new system: continuous attacks against targets within Palestinian Authority areas.
-In interviews published in Passover newspaper supplements, Sharon announced that "Arafat is starting to understand us." In other words, he suggested that his new system was working.
-After a raid in Beit Hanoun, which stirred criticism, Sharon announced that Arafat had got the message - the Palestinian Authority Chairman understands that Israel will not condone any more mortar attacks on our territory, he said.
-At a Lag Ba'omer ceremony on Har Meron, Sharon proclaimed grandly: Israeli tanks today fired missiles at Palestinian security compounds in the Gaza Strip.
-After a terror strike in a Netanya mall, Israel Air Force F-16 warplanes attacked targets in Gaza. Sharon declared that he would brook no compromise when it comes to Israeli security, and that he will bring peace and security.
-In June 2001, Sharon announced a unilateral cease-fire, and adopted a policy of restraint, even after the lethal terror attack at the Tel Aviv dolphinarium.
-Briefing right-wing ministers during this period, Sharon vowed that he would act to bring about Arafat's expulsion from the territories.
-In July, Israel started its policy of assassinations; these killings escalated the conflict, and led to increasing numbers of casualties on both sides.
-That same month, Sharon told his cabinet that he had a plan of action against the PA, but the time was not yet right to implement it.
-In August, Sharon announced that he had found the way to deal with Palestinian violence: a mix of guerrilla warfare, immediate responses to each terror strike, and the imposition of international pressure on Arafat, demanding that the terror be halted.
-After the assassination of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi in October, a new system of warfare went into effect: IDF troops penetrated deeply into PA areas, and remained there for prolonged periods. In addition, closures were imposed on Palestinian cities, and uncompromising war was declared against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
-In November, Sharon deferred a planned trip to the U.S. to address the general assembly of Jewish organizations, claiming that he was preparing a new military approach to be implemented against terror organizations.
-In December, prior to his departure for a meeting with President Bush, Sharon announced that he had found an effective way to deal with terror, one that would not escalate violence. From now on, Israeli measures would apparently be focused on the economic sphere. Two days later, terror attacks in Haifa and Jerusalem compelled Sharon to shorten his visit abroad, and return home.
-The next steps featured, among other things, the bombardment of Arafat's helicopters, the destruction of the PA airstrip in Gaza, the declaration that the PA is a terror-supporting entity, the pronouncement that Arafat is irrelevant, and his confinement to Ramallah. Sharon decided that keeping Arafat locked up in Ramallah was the most effective way of compelling him to take steps against terror.
-This month, following missile attacks on Israeli territory, Sharon carried out his threat "to act against the PA using measures that have not been adopted up to now." The result: his declaration that buffer zones are to be established.
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