If it were up to the commanders on the ground, the IDF would have been out of the Area A cities of the West Bank this week.
Most brigade commanders, the divisional commander for the West Bank, Brigadier General Gershon Yitzhak, head of Central Command, Yitzhak Eitan, and most of the senior staff officers, including the head of the Planning Directorate, Giora Eiland, all support a quick pull out.
Their concern is that some sort of incident will provide the political leadership with a reason or an obligation, to extend their stay inside Area A.
Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who held a meeting with senior IDF officers yesterday on the current situation, agrees with the views of the army. For the defense establishment, it appears that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is putting the withdrawal off for internal political considerations (to balance his agreement to a meeting of Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat), but also due to external pressures (a show of strength in defiance of American demands for a rapid withdrawal).
The commander of the Binyamin Brigade, Colonel Ilan Paz, is the most veteran of all the field commanders in the West Bank, and perhaps the most prominent. It is expected that Paz, also commander of Navy and Air Force special forces, will be promoted to Brigadier General next year.
In view of the quick changes on the ground, there is no replacement for knowledge of the area. The commanders of the brigades deployed in the area are regarded as authorities in planning the operations, in formulating responses on the basis of the circumstances, and in recommending preferred ways of operation.
Last week, during the peak of operation of "Fresh Lions" in the cities of the West Bank, Sharon and Ben-Eliezer paid a visit to Paz's field headquarters. Sharon wanted to reinforce the troops on the ground, while Ben-Eliezer preferred the use of special forces.
Paz tried to explain to them why the IDF should get out, so long as the balance was in its favor. From a tactical point of view, Paz said, the IDF made a lot of gains in this operations - dozens of activists on Israel's wanted list were arrested, many of those involved in lethal attacks against Israelis were killed, the shipment of already assembled explosive devices was disrupted (the Palestinians have so far proved incompetent in assembling devices quickly), and the ability of the IDF to assert control over Palestinian cities, with little difficulty, was demonstrated.
These achievements, Paz suggested, are best bolstered by local agreements with local strong-men in Ramallah, like Jibril Rajoub. A proxy-agreement of sorts is already operational in Bitunia - Rajoub prevents shooting against Israelis from there, and in return the IDF is also not shooting.
Paz was quick to point out that this is a limited arrangement that will bring quiet to the Ramallah front, but will not result in the Palestinian Authority arresting fugitive activists, and will not bring an end to the attacks on the roads of the West Bank. It will probably not even put an end to attempts to send car bombs to Jerusalem. In order for these goals to be met, high level agreements are required, the kind that are dependent on leaders and in strategies on both sides; since the chances of formulating an overall policy are not within reach for the commanders on the ground, they push forth to what is at hand: local arrangements.
IDF commanders believe the confrontation with the Palestinians will last a long time and will test the resolve of Israeli society to support, politically and financially, a wasted struggle, partly for the future of the settlements.
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