Exactly a month and a half after the terrorist attack at the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv that killed 21 people and wounded more than 100 others, the Israeli government is ending the period of restraint and moving to a new approach. It can be summed up succinctly in two words: "scale" and "context" - meaning, an Israeli response commensurate with the scale of the attack and in the context of the time and place in which the attack was carried out.
Thus, for example, in response to the shooting attack in which six Israelis were wounded near Har Bracha, in the West Bank, Israeli tanks opened fire at security forces of the Palestinian Authority in Nablus and seized a military outpost for a few hours in Area A (under full Palestinian control) close to the area in which the incident took place. In another case, a settler was murdered near Sussya south of Hebron - and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) demolished dozens of homes, caves where shepherds lived, and water wells in the area. We can conjecture that if the Palestinians fire a mortar shell at a settlement in the Gaza Strip or into a kibbutz along the border, the new rule will be upheld and a response of commensurate scale will impact somewhere in the Gaza Strip - though no one knows what, or how large, the response will be. The logic behind the new policy apparently derives from the idea of creating local pressure on the population and no longer on the Palestinian Authority as a ruling establishment. Thus, if Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat does not want to put a stop to the war waged by the Palestinians, the IDF will try to induce the population of Nablus or Hebron to take action instead.
This is not a new policy, however fresh the definition may be. Striking at the civilian population to achieve military goals has been an integral part of conflict management policy since the start of the Intifada - a policy whose foundations were, in fact, laid in Lebanon by successive Israeli governments. The problem with this policy is that it proved a failure in Lebanon and afterward in the army's sieges, closures and special operations in the territories. Indeed, it totally undercuts the military deterrent that the army is making such a great effort to consolidate. After the suicide bombing at the Dolphinarium, for example, it was clear that the IDF was preparing a massive response that could bring about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian public in particular and the Arab population in general talked about the "death blow" that Israel was planning to inflict on the institutions of the PA and at the population. Jordan imposed a quota on the number of Palestinians that would be allowed to enter its territory, Egypt fired off warning missives to every corner of the world (not omitting the Palestinians) and even Washington momentarily snapped out of its torpor. The very threat was enough to prod Arafat into declaring a cease-fire for the first time. So it turned out that it was precisely the decision not to use force but to continue the policy of restraint and uphold the cease-fire that helped build up military deterrence.
It was clear to both sides that the formal cease-fire was not perfect. The IDF allowed itself to continue its policy of killing specific individuals and the PA "let" terrorist attacks continue in certain places. The difference was that each side now accused the other of violating the cease-fire and not of continuing the war. The cease-fire thus became a kind of contract, with the parties waiting for one of its substantive clauses to be breached so that the whole thing could be annuled. That model is not so far from the essence of the understandings reached after Israel's Grapes of Wrath campaign in Lebanon in 1996 - understandings that set the rules of the military game in southern Lebanon and that were meant to prevent the war from spilling over into the communities in the north of Israel, or toward Beirut. The understandings were thus able to restore deterrence effect maintained both by the IDF and by Hezbollah.
The PA and Israel have effectively adopted the Lebanese model, even if they have not said so explicitly, and have demanded a complete cease-fire. In the past month and a half, each side has demarcated the boundaries of its tolerance, and more particularly the activity that is permitted. This is almost an optimal situation for two sides that do not want, or are unable, to negotiate. Thus the cease-fire becomes a goal in itself - a military goal, and almost a political one, too. Ending the policy of restraint doesn't hold out the promise of better military results, but it will henceforth oblige the IDF to prove that it has in fact abandoned restraint and to try to reinstate its deterrent capability by a massive use of force. Otherwise the IDF will not be able to demonstrate the difference between the policy of restraint and a different policy. Anyone who thinks that the notion of "scale and context" will be able to serve as an appropriate substitute will discover very quickly that neither "scale" nor "context" have limits and that they are sometimes determined by a tank gunner who missed the target by half a degree.
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