The second International Conference on Limited Conflict opened this week at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, sponsored by the Ground Forces Command of the Israel Defense Forces, with the participation of representatives from various countries. This year the conference is taking place in the shadow of two events: the declaration of the end of violence between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and the appointment of former Israel Air Force Commander Dan Halutz as the next chief of staff. The cease-fire makes it possible to conduct an initial summary of IDF achievements in the intifada, whereas the appointment of Halutz marks the acceleration of the technological revolution and the organizational changes expected in the IDF.
These two aspects will be reflected in the conference as well. IDF commanders will speak about the lessons learned from the war that began in September 2000, including their personal experiences. In the exhibition that accompanies the conference, the Israeli defense industries reveal some of the new means of warfare that are already serving the IDF in the war against terror, or will do so in the future.
The statistics regarding the weakening of Palestinian terror speak for themselves. After four and a half years of intifada, there are clear signs of success in the war. They are reflected in a significant decline in the number of victims of terror attacks during the past two and half years. Whereas in 2002 the average number of people killed in terror attacks each month was 38, in 2003 it declined to 18, and in 2004 to 11.
Major General (res.) Prof. Yitzhak Ben Yisrael states in a paper that he wrote about the war on terror, that the percentage of Israeli victims of terror has declined in recent months to the level before the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000. However, Ben Yisrael estimates that terror will not disappear. War on terror is not like classical warfare, where there are winners and losers, but is more like the war on crime. And terror, like crime, will not disappear completely.
The limited conflict and the war against Palestinian terror have been characterized in the last four and a half years, as the paper points out, by two types of preventive activities. The first type were activities for which the IDF was directly responsible; the second type were activities that were in the overall area of responsibility of the security services. The paper sees two main turning points in the war conducted by the IDF during the intifada: In the wake of the terror attack in the Park Hotel in Netanya on Seder night in March 2002, the IDF launched a comprehensive war against terrorist organizations known as Operation Defensive Shield. The entry into PA areas in order to destroy the terror infrastructure had immediate results, and the number of interceptions of terror operations rose from 40 percent to 80 percent of attempts to prevent these operations.
The second turning point took place in mid-2003, when the IDF began to intensify the pressure on the terror organizations, and launched preventive attacks and targeted assassinations of the senior activists of the terror organizations. These attacks also had an effect on the decline in terrorist activity.
According to an analysis by Ben Yisrael, since there are no more than several hundred Hamas activists, it is enough to neutralize 20 percent to 30 percent of them in order to cause a significant decline in the capability of preparing terrorist activities. However, IDF activity did not repress Palestinian motivation to attack in the future, and there is a possibility that the Palestinians will continue to improve the Qassam rockets so that Ashkelon, too, will be within their range.
In spite of the military achievement, the IDF did not succeed in defending the borders of the country from infiltration by terrorists. It was necessary to apply political and public pressure on the government in order to bring about the construction of the security fence.
When it comes to the IDF struggle against terror, the technological revolution is too slow. The IDF has formulated a new operational philosophy, and cooperation between the air, sea and ground forces is better than in the past, but Israel still lacks the technology to locate or neutralize explosive belts. So while the IDF is investing billions of shekels a year to develop means of warfare for the battlefield of the future - some of them can be seen at the display of weapons at the international conference on limited conflict - the security services and the IDF are investing only tens of millions of shekels in developing technologies for the war against terror. They prefer to leave this problem for the state to solve.