Last Wednesday, during a visit to the Tze'elim army base, Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz stood in front of the cameras and attacked Yasser Arafat's "verbal tricks," devoid of deeds. When his words were broadcast that evening and reverberated in the headlines of the next morning's papers, the information on which they were based was still hidden from the viewers and readers.
After months of monitoring and a week of preparations, Mofaz left to command Operation Noah's Ark - the capture of the arms ship "Karine A" - from up close. This was a combined operation headed by the chief of naval intelligence, Brigadier General M., which employed helicopters, patrol boats and the naval commando unit, Shayetet 13, whose fighters surprised the sleepy crew and took over the ship. The superb execution - without a shot fired or a single casualty - did something to rehabilitate the reputations of Shayetet 13 and naval intelligence.
In addition to Mofaz, the forward command party that supervised the operation from the air included the commanders-in-chief of the Navy and Air Force, Major Generals Yedidia Ya'ari and Dan Halutz; the head of the Operations Directorate, Major General Dan Harel; and senior intelligence officers. Brigadier General M., Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon and additional operations and intelligence officers remained at the control room in the General Staff.
A quarter of a century after the Entebbe operation - in which the airborne forward command party included the head of Military Intelligence and the commander-in-chief of the Air Force, Major Generals Yekutiel Adam and Benny Peled - the command procedures used in Operation Noah's Ark cannot be seen as a great innovation. Since then, however, events have changed the Red Sea and Horn of Africa theaters. Peace with Jordan and Egypt, the evacuation of the air and naval bases at Sharm al-Sheikh, and Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia, among other developments, have created diplomatic advantages alongside operational and logistical constraints.
The military achievement inherent in both depriving the Palestinians of weaponry and condemning them of having been preparing to shell Tel Aviv, in defiance of demilitarization agreements banning heavy weapons, is obvious. While we were waiting for the Palestinian "Altalena" - for a confrontation between Arafat, the seeker of peace, and the rejectionists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad - Arafat was bringing in his own arms ship. And the army, in 2002, had to repeat the 1948 naval operation "Robber" (the seizure of an arms ship with "8,000 rifles for the mufti"). Iran, for its part, has been revealed as an exporter of terror to both Hezbollah and the Palestinians.
Even more important are the other possible ramifications of the operation, which demonstrated Israel's intelligence and operational capabilities: increased credibility for its claims, heightened deterrence and a boost for Israel's integration into the network of worldwide alliances, such as the American-led coalition against terror.
A state capable of locating and intercepting military threats against it proves that the information gathered by its professional networks is accurate and serious, and that it is able and willing to go to great lengths to foil potential dangers before they materialize. This is a fact that will certainly be taken into account not only in Ramallah and Washington, but also in Baghdad and Tehran.
There is no basis to the malicious accusation that the IDF timed the capture of the "Karine A" in order to undermine Anthony Zinni's mission or to exploit it as a springboard. Arafat is the one who failed to order his aides to delay the ship's sailing, and the Palestinian Authority is responsible for its own active involvement in preparing the violence that will succeed the current brief lull.
The accepted wisdom, which attributes a hardline attitude toward the Palestinians to the senior professional level of the defense establishment, is both erroneous and simplistic. The top levels of the IDF, the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad are located in about the same "center band" of the Israeli spectrum that Ehud Barak drew around himself, ranging from Dan Meridor on the right to Yossi Sarid on the left - excluding Herut and the Communists, excluding Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu on the right and excluding Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin on the left. The top brass is not deterred by the thought of marriage with the Palestinians - or of divorce, depending on the point of view of the speaker. It merely refuses to be raped by them.
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