Palestinian security office -Reuters - 18092011
A Palestinian security officer outside PLO headquarters in Ramallah. Will the Palestinian security forces continue to maintain close ties with Israel or will they rally with the masses? Photo by Reuters
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Last week's major event was the one which did not occur - a major Al-Qaida terror strike on September 11. "We have specific, credible intelligence information," announced U.S. government officials and spokespeople ahead of the 10th anniversary of the mega-terror attacks. No details were given about this intelligence information. Whether preparations for a terror attack were uncovered and foiled, or whether inchoate ideas never consolidated, no event in the real world followed these intelligence warnings, and the non-occurrence can count as a success.

The logic laden within the willingness to err on the side of exaggerated warnings, so as not to be seen as apathetic, is not foreign to Israel. It will be tested in the days ahead, as the crisis caused by the Palestinian drive for statehood recognition reaches its peak. IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, his deputy, Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, head of the operations directorate Maj. Gen. Ya'akov Ayash and other IDF officers are preparing for the crisis, and met early this week with Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, along with other senior police officers, including the head of the police operations branch Nissim Mor.

In recent years, working cooperation between the IDF and the police force has improved, as has the level of cooperation between the police and the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad. A workmanlike, practical atmosphere characterizes coordinated efforts between the IDF General Staff and high-ranking police officers. A legal counsel has been assigned to IDF units, and each IDF battalion war room will have its own group of experts in humanitarian, legal and spokesmanship fields; and each group's task will be what the IDF calls the "fifth endeavor." The first four tasks carried out by a war room involve maneuvering, weapons fire, intelligence and logistics.

IDF battalions, particularly those from training and education bases, will augment border police platoons that have been sent to the center of the country as reinforcements at a key potential flashpoint ("the Jerusalem envelope" ). These IDF units are slated for intensive nighttime activity during a possible period of tumultuous uprising; to identify points of violent conflict, fence off areas and serve as reinforcements.

The various security forces' mission will be to prevent local events from transforming into a continuous sequence of riots, funerals and escalation. The IDF has formulated a new approach: Alongside events in which defeat is not an option, such as infiltration into settlements or army bases, is preparation for events in which victory is not a requirement, and where tactical retreats are an option as Israel waits for the rage to subside.

Rules of engagement have been formulated, in consultation with the IDF advocate general and the attorney general. Different rules apply to three regions. Instruction number 3 applies to the Northern Command, where clashes could erupt again along the Golan Heights border; instruction number 4 applies to the Central Command, and number 8 to the Southern Command. Under all of them soldiers will be permitted to open fire only in cases of mortal threat or "grave crime." Senior officers in each IDF unit will monitor events on the ground, to ensure that restraint and common sense prevail.

Stinking them out

Recently, three transport planes landed at Israel Air Force bases, bringing non-lethal crowd dispersal equipment to the country. IDF officers are particularly enthusiastic about the "skunk," which fires small stink bombs. There's no way to cope with the stench, the IDF believes: A dose of the malodorous material was placed on Maj. Gen. Naveh's desk, and caused a mass exodus from the deputy chief of staff's bureau and the surrounding area.

The IDF might also indulge a first-of-its-kind military breakthrough, flying skunks - Blackhawk helicopters that will drive rioters away from above. The main objective is to prevent the spread of lethal violence, which could lead operatives in Gaza to be inspired by events on the West Bank and launch rocket attacks on Israel's south.

Though signs in the field do not point to a scenario of widespread conflict, Israel's political-security leadership is ordering that these extensive preparations be carried out. Intelligence indicates that Palestinian mobilization via social networks does not point to readiness to engage in violent battle. Whatever it says in advance of events, intelligence reports will mean nothing if a "drunken brawl" in the field spins out of control. "I evaluate conditions in the field optimistically, but prepare as a pessimist," reflected one top police officer.

An IDF major general who has rich intelligence experience chimed in: "This appears to be the first time that security officials are manifestly acting on drastic working assumptions, in full knowledge that they are more severe than the contents of intelligence reports."

For example, intelligence officials have no evidence suggesting that members of the Palestinian security apparatus, which maintains close relations with Israel, will join demonstrators en route to the Temple Mount, or will spurn orders from Mahmoud Abbas calling on them to stop terror attacks. Nonetheless, erring on the side of caution, Israeli security officials are assuming that these Palestinian forces will rally with the protesting masses.

An illustration of what might happen appeared a week ago, in the siege on Israel's embassy in Cairo. A few days before this incident, Israeli security officers who have the closest ties to Egypt's army estimated that despite the weakness of the ruling military council, there would not be a worsening of relations with Egypt until a new president is elected in that country, apparently in early 2012. The inaction of Egypt's security forces at the time of the siege until the evacuation, surprised - and, of course, disappointed - Israel's foremost experts.

Last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak took exception to remarks made by GOC Home Front Command Eyal Eisenberg regarding the likelihood of a total regional war. Eisenberg subsequently qualified that his reference to "total" war applied to terror directed against civilian populations. When he served as the head of IDF intelligence in the 1980s, Barak, who wore a red paratrooper's beret, was accused by a minister (Gideon Patt ) of telling "Little Red Riding Hood" stories to the government; whether they are exaggerated or not, when his turn comes to haggling about the defense budget, Barak and his associates will find evaluations of the sort Eisenberg voiced to be extremely useful.

In effect, Eisenberg expressed in public a concern which first came to the fore 11 years ago, in October 2000, when the Barak government failed to carry out a large operation in response to the kidnapping of three IDF soldiers at Har Dov ("Shaba Farms" ), due to fears of a conflagration that would spread to hostile Syria, Jordan (burdened by its Palestinian majority ) and even to Egypt, where Mubarak would find it difficult to stand aside.

Some IDF officers go as far as to say that circumstances now resemble those of May 1967, when the noose appeared to close around Israel, with a weak Jordan pressured by forces stronger than itself, and which displayed rank hostility to Israel.

Learning the lessons

At first glance, the need for intelligence evaluations that stress Doomsday scenarios, as opposed to those that stress optimistic possibilities, is self-evident. The real challenge is to identify breaking points, circumstances in which resolute responses would be required; there are never unequivocal intelligence evaluations that convey news of immediate threats.

America's intelligence system never had reports that stated expressly "passenger planes will be hijacked on September 11, 2001 and will crash into the World Trade Center." There were various reports about desires to carry out another terror strike at the twin towers, as a sequel to the failed car bomb attack in 1993; concurrently, there were reports about intentions to hijack passenger planes. The claim that these intelligence fragments did not suffice as warrants for preparations and preemptive action has legal validity; but this narrow meaning of legal liability for negligence is not the sole concern of political-security leaders, who have the responsibility for thinking creatively to thwart terror.

The most woeful instance of the blurring of evaluations and responsibilities formulated and borne by intelligence officials, the General Staff, the defense minister and the prime minister is October 1973. Since the Yom Kippur War, a vocal school of thought, comprised especially of former IDF intelligence officers and Mossad agents, pins responsibility for the failure on the head of IDF intelligence at the time, Maj. Gen. Eli Zeira, who failed to grasp that Egypt's and Syria's armies were about to launch a war, under orders from Anwar Sadat and Hafez Assad.

Now blame seems to be shifting from army intelligence to the political leadership, thanks to materials published (apparently for the first time ) after the death of a figure who served as a close confidant to Defense Minister Moshe Dayan between 1967 and 1974, Tzvi Tzur. The materials are culled from an interview with Tzur in 2000 conducted by Dr. Boaz Lev Tov, and designated for the oral history collection stored by the Rabin Center. Dayan, Tzur, IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar, Deputy Chief of Staff Israel Tal and Zeira took part in a regular weekly meeting held in the defense minister's office, at 9 A.M. on Friday, October 5.

During this meeting, Dayan spoke about the possibility of war, and what the IDF would need to do during four days of fighting: "What we originally viewed as being unlikely, as having low probability, we now see as having a high probability of being their preparations for attack. There are various signs. Possibly, the exercise they are carrying out in Egypt is a diversion," stated Dayan.

Dayan thought aloud, and reflected about whether it would be better to allow the Egyptian and Syrian armies to initiate attacks, and then vanquish them: "Let them go ahead with this, it would be unfortunate to foil the business; let them come, and we'll take care of it."

In his testimony at the Rabin Center, Tzur said "Zeira was definitely a respected figure. He was a super-intelligent fellow, and his opinions were listened to. Only one person could have turned things around - Dayan. Had Dayan said 'look, let's not take a chance, this is a risk whose danger is too vast for the state; we need to draft the reservists,' then Golda [Meir] would have accepted this counsel. Dayan was the central player here. Ten people might have come and said 'not this way, yes this way, not this way.' That would not have made any difference, so long as Dayan insisted on accepting the view of the IDF intelligence corps. He could have turned things around, and he didn't do that. He believed that the IDF would be able to deal with invading forces, should such an invasion occur. That was the prevailing view. You would have thought differently only had you been a worrying sort of person."

In reaching their decision to ignore the intelligence evaluations and prepare for grave scenarios, the IDF, Shin Bet and police have expressed justifiable lack of confidence in the ability of the Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman government to take steps that would prevent an escalation of violence.