What is more frightening: a Syrian Scud missile with a chemical warhead that can hit Tel Aviv and kill thousands of people with poison gas, or a Palestinian Qassam missile full of primitive explosives, which hits Sderot and sometimes Ashkelon, and causes a small amount of damage? The destructive power of the Syrian missile is far greater, and yet few, if any, Israelis think about its existence. The Qassam, however, is seen as a serious security threat, which is of concern to the prime minister, the security services, the media and the Israeli public.
There is a simple explanation for the inverse ratio between the performance capability of the enemy's missiles and the level of anxiety about them: The security threat does not stem from the technology of weapons systems, but from the finger on the trigger. Israel's leaders portray Syrian President Bashar Assad as the principal inciter of terror in the region and as the person responsible for the kidnapping of soldier Gilad Shalit. But they were not afraid Assad would launch Scuds, even after Israeli warplanes buzzed his palace. He may be a terrorist, but he is not crazy. If he presses the launch button, he will risk a harsh reaction from Israel that will endanger his rule and his country. That is why Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz can irritate him without fear.
As opposed to Assad, the Qassam operators in Gaza cannot be deterred by an F-16 fighter plane, and their hand does not tremble when they launch another missile over the fence. Their strength stems from the weakness of the Palestinian Authority and from the absence of a central security force in Gaza.
Israel has suffered from this problem since its earliest days: Terror develops in a place where the Arab government is weak. That was the case in Jordan in the 1950s and 1960s, in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s, and now in the PA. Centralized governments with a strong army, like Syria, Egypt and Jordan today, are able to ensure quiet on the border, and their behavior is predictable. Wherever there is chaos, there are problems of "ongoing security."
It is enough to see what is happening in Lebanon. The moment Hezbollah took control over the south of the country and armed itself with thousands of Katyushas and other rockets, a stable balance of deterrence was created on both sides of the border. The withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from Lebanon in 2000 was made possible not only because of the daring of then prime minister Ehud Barak, but also thanks to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who conducts a policy of "one law and one weapon" on the other side.
Nasrallah hates Israel and Zionism no less than do the Hamas leaders, Shalit's kidnappers and the Qassam squads. But as opposed to them - he has authority and responsibility, and therefore his behavior is rational and reasonably predictable. Under the present conditions, that's the best possible situation. Hezbollah is doing a better job of maintaining quiet in the Galilee than did the pro-Israeli South Lebanese Army.
In the territories there is no such Nasrallah today. PA Chair Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is opposed to terror and wants diplomatic negotiations, but he operates as a tortured intellectual and a commentator, rather than as an authoritative leader. The Hamas government, which at first showed promising signs of organization and discipline, has behaved like him and shrugged its shoulders during the kidnapping crisis. The weapons in Gaza are split among organizations, gangs and clans, which Israel has difficulty deterring.
The events of the past weeks in Gaza have once again demonstrated that the essential condition for a quiet border is a responsible finger on the trigger on the other side. The conclusion we must come to is that until the appearance of a factor that will take control of security and weapons on the West Bank - Israel will not be able to withdraw from there. Negotiations with Abbas are not sufficient, nor is an agreement with him. It is more important that his statement about "one law and one weapon" be implemented on the ground. Even if it is implemented by a Palestinian Nasrallah.
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