Text size

One out of every three Israel Defense Forces soldiers and junior commanders serving in the territories is liable to respond to an order handed down to his unit to evacuate outposts by expressing doubt and aversion, to the point where senior officers are being forced to devote "special attention, individual follow-up and conversations" to "the bottom-third" of troops in the platoons and companies. All to avoid "instances of insubordination by individuals or groups."

The policy of using force in response to refuseniks, as first reported by Haaretz last Wednesday, suffers from a split personality. The commanders are tasked with deterring soldiers contemplating refusal of orders, while also showing sensitivity toward "commanders or soldiers with familial or social ties to the evacuated population." In other words, the army will not send settlers, or relatives of settlers, or friends of relatives of settlers, to evacuate other settlers. What is officially forbidden for a secular soldier from Kiryat Shmona is permissible in practice for a skullcap-wearing soldier from Kiryat Arba.

This is one of the disconcerting conclusions that can be reached from the memo serving as a preparatory document for active units in the Judea and Samaria Division. The memo mostly deals with assisting commanders in readying their units for anti-terrorism combat and for coming into contact with the Palestinian population. At its core, the memo's intent is positive, yet from the section devoted to "missions in the realm of public debate" - ranging from right-wing and left-wing demonstrations to the evacuation of outposts - emanates a soft, defeatist approach. The famous "determination and sensitivity" during the summer of 2005 has been replaced with weakness and inadequacy. They speak of insubordinate soldiers at the combat level, but the real refuseniks, at least those who evade their responsibility, are the ones above the rank of colonel.

The division commander, Brigadier General Noam Tibon, is not viewed favorably by the settlers. Officers well-versed in what is occuring on the ground have observed that Tibon is operating vigorously and aggressively within the boundaries demarcated by his commander, GOC Central Command Major General Gadi Shamni. It is convenient for the settlers to cry foul, but their bark is worse than their bite. The IDF loathes executing the evacuation of outposts and has expressed its willingness - out of a sense of exceeding generosity - to leave it to the police. It is already preparing an alibi for itself, a failing grade that will deny it its "bottom-third" diploma: it would be best not to put the bottom third to the test.

Tibon signed the memo, written three months ago (with Tibon's input) by the division's administrative advisor, Hadas Minka-Brand, when the evacuation of outposts appeared imminent given the pressure exerted by U.S. President Barack Obama. In the meantime, Obama and the evacuation have taken a summer holiday which will end next month, when the United Nations General Assembly meets and when Obama's Middle East peace plan is unveiled.

Tibon, who stands to hand over the reins of the division to Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon, had trouble remembering the memo this week. Shamni will soon depart for his new post as military attache in Washington, leaving the headache of the territories to General Avi Mizrahi. Civil Administration head, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who turned down a senior position in Military Intelligence, is a candidate for the job of military secretary to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a convenient springboard to being promoted to coordinator of activities in the territories. The veterans in sync with one another are splitting up. For the fresh faces, the settlers are liable to prepare a very educational welcome - and it's clear who's intent on doing the educating.

Army people live in a political reality. If the Vice Prime Minister, a member of the six-minister committee charged with making fateful decisions, a former chief of staff - one who was embittered after being denied the opportunity to command the 2005 evacuation of Gaza and the northern West Bank - is on the ground expressing opposition to the removal of outposts due to security considerations, then what should a corporal in the Kfir infantry brigade derive from this? This is, of course, a democracy; decisions are made by a majority vote, as we all know; and the orders are given through a chain of command, without a doubt; so let them find somebody else to carry out the mission. Why should he care who carries it out? Let them use police officers on duty at the Tel Baruch beach.

This is not just the thought process of a corporal, it also reflects the mindset being transmitted by top military brass - up to and including Barak. Last month, the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee invited Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan to speak. Hospitality of this kind, generally reserved for suspected traitors, was common in the days of the Spanish Inquisition. The MKs who either live in the territories or identify with the settlers pounced on the legal aspects of the evacuation plans. They wish to intimidate the jurists, just as they do the officers.

Nitzan referred them to the government, Barak and Shamni. "In order for the outposts to be authorized," he said, "a political decision is required, a government decision. The same goes for a decision to evacuate. There are many petitions to the High Court wondering why a certain illegal outpost is not being evacuated, and the answer is that the one who determines the priorities is the defense minister."

If Barak can summon the inspiration and comes to a decision to finally fulfill his obligations to enforce the law, then the question of method arises. The settlers want a surprise evacuation with advance warning. Nitzan: "We can announce, 'People, we will come to evacuate the area tomorrow at 12 o'clock.' The result will certainly be that thousands will come to obstruct - with their own bodies - the evacuation at 12 o'clock the next day, dozens of injured, violent clashes, grave violations of the law. So they decided to change the method, which is completely legal."

Four years ago, just prior to the evacuation of Gaza and the northern West Bank, the IDF and police were bickering, with each offering the other the lead role in executing the pullout. The structure ultimately agreed upon called for an interwoven deployment by the two organizations, each sharing responsibility for the evacuation, isolation and security. The supreme commander in Gaza, territory which had been under military occupation, was GOC Southern Command Dan Harel, who is now the deputy chief of staff. Under Harel's charge were two military divisions and two police control headquarters.

Brig. Gen. Uzi Moskovitz, who was commander of Division 340 (one of the evacuating divisions) is now commander of the Jordan Valley Division (162), which took part in the evacuation from the northern West Bank under the command of Tal Russo, now a general and head of operations directorate. Under the command of Division 340, the police took its orders from Hagi Dotan, then police brigadier-general and now the major general and commander of the Judea and Samaria police district. If Division 162 (and not the Judea and Samaria Division) is once again tasked with evacuating the outposts, Moskovitz and Dotan can rely on their resumes, as can Police Major General Yisrael Yitzhak, commander of the Border Police, who was commander of the Judea and Samaria police district during the evacuation and whose forces will provide back-up for the police in the West Bank.

In contrast to the anarchy that greeted army officers and police at the start of the West Bank evacuations during the disengagement, this time there is no shortage of experience or knowledge. What is mainly lacking is will.

The Border Police developed an evacuation doctrine which includes the magic formula for vacating a family of five: deploy 22 police officers (four cops for each evacuee, one for each arm and leg; two others are apparently the commander and his deputy). In the Border Police, and in the police in general, service is a full-time salaried job or compulsory service geared toward enlisting full-time. There are also 16 reserve companies of Border Police veterans. There are few settlers who serve in the Border Police. Many of them are Druze who do not have friends or relatives in the settlements. The police officers deployed in the territories will not be enthralled with the idea of evacuating outposts, and as such will not offer any creative stratagems. But it is near certain that they will obey orders. Soldiers, particularly those in compulsory service, are less trustworthy. They are liable to thwart the evacuation, be it by leaking the time and method of the evacuation or by refusing en masse, which would increase the pressure exerted by opponents of the pullout.

According to the Tibon memo, there are "purely defense-related issues" and there are instances "at times in which the army is tasked with carrying out government decisions by means of executing missions in the realm of public debate. In light of these tasks, there are liable to be instances of insubordination by individuals or groups." While soldiers must carry out their mission by virtue of military discipline, "in our worldview these missions, which are not the type of combat missions that require special attention from commanders, at the moment of truth are liable to be perceived as more complicated."

The commanders are required to determine "the bottom-third" of officers and soldiers who have difficulty in demarcating clear "red lines" for instances of refusal. As the memo states: "Until the actual refusal, [show] sensitivity toward those with difficulties yet when the refusal transpires [there should be] a clear, unequivocal response from those in command," to deny the insubordinate soldier "an opportunity to create a provocation in view of the media" by postponing the court martial until after the evacuation.

The soft attitude toward dealing with settlers and their supporters that emanates from the memo is quite vexing in contrast to the straightforward way in which the army confronts unpleasant instances of violent and humiliating behavior by soldiers at checkpoints, raids and demonstrations, including cases of abuse, bribery and looting. Yet an officer would have to be either blind or foolish to fail to notice the political trends and the harassment of those involved in previous evacuations. To be on the safe side, the next scenario envisions "preparing soldiers on the company level for confronting law-breaking Israelis" in Tibon's division, though it ends with a question mark.

"Your mission," a soldier or commander is told during training, "is to block the entrance of Israelis to the premises" in which settlers seek to build an illegal outpost. Ten minutes prior to sundown ushering in the Sabbath, a car pulls over near you carrying three young boys who appear to be wearing skullcaps. You tell them they are not allowed to pass. One of them places his hand on your shoulder and says, "My brother, the glorious Sabbath is coming. Anyway, you guys don't evacuate Jews on the Sabbath. We're not going to make it back home in time. Let us pass, we don't harm anyone." You insist that he is not allowed to pass. Then he says, "If that's the way it is, my brother, we will wait until you leave and in the meantime we will welcome the glorious Sabbath right here." The two other youths begin to unfold a white tablecloth over your jeep and sit down in front of the car as if to block it from moving. They begin to take out items of food. When you ask them to remove their belongings, they tell you they have no intention of leaving and that you are invited to join them. Actually, you're pretty hungry yourself.

And yet in the Central Command and the Judea and Samaria Division, they are asking "my brother," the settlers' brother, the private, sergeant, second lieutenant who is hungry and tired - what options do you have? What will you choose?

These are good questions. They would also be fair questions if asked of Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Moshe Ya'alon, Gabi Ashkenazi, Gadi Shamni and Noam Tibon.