Dan Harel, GOC Southern Command, is the unhappiest person in Israel. He is also the happiest. Harel bears direct responsibility for the most delicate and demanding internal surgery in the state's history, one that is dangerous both to the patient and to the doctor.
His difficulties were obvious to all on Sunday, at the tiny place of Shirat Hayam, in the mini-clash with the Jewish settlers and the crowning of soldier Avi Bieber as the Nahshon of the refusers in the territories, the first to leap into the turbulent waters.
The commanders subordinate to Harel are not in awe of his professional authority; his leadership problems changed in style, not substance, when the Gaza division was rid of Brigadier General Shmuel Zakai and provided with Brigadier General Aviv Kohavi in his stead.
Harel, who has never been enthusiastic about the evacuation, is sentenced to unhappiness as its commander. However, he can also realize the American promise of the pursuit of happiness, because Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz agreed last week that Harel would be appointed defense attache in Washington after the evacuation. Shirat Hayam (Hebrew for "The Song of the Sea") will be more pleasant to his ears on the shores of Chesapeake Bay.
The soldiers, the Jewish settlers in the territories and all the rest of the disengagement opponents who are girding their loins for a fight in August and September do not know what their fate will be then and afterward; Harel does know. The evacuation mission is generally perceived as a thankless task, but not in his case, for he shall be comforted in a building in Washington. Harel will be awarded the booby prize, even if the disengagement is not carried out.
Lieutenant General Halutz, who has publicly hedged the certainty of the implementation with a possibility of a change in the government's decision, has admitted that a cancellation of the evacuation is possible. The army juggernaut is pressing forward and is slated to crush anything that stands in its way, and eject everyone who dwells there, but it has a driver, the government, and it is within its authority to stop what it has started.
The army always takes pride in its strength as the most orderly planning body - in fact, the only one - in the official system, the champion at the implementation of plans taken off the shelf, out of the drawer and from the safe. It must not be caught in any emergency unprepared and without a plan. The Israel Defense Forces, according to its officers, hates to be surprised twice. The Egyptians and the Syrians surprised it in 1973, and since then it has been prepared to stop them every Yom Kippur. The Palestinians surprised it by killing 16 Israelis in the Western Wall Tunnel disturbances in September 1996, and the organizational response was to prepare the army, and especially the central command, to prevent a similar outcome in the confrontation that was predicted in the fall of 2000. When Ehud Barak went off to Camp David, the IDF was prepared for two alternatives, calm with an agreement and a flare-up in a crisis.
Following this pattern, now the IDF is also preparing, in light of the opposition, for the possibility of the cancellation of the evacuation; but if it were to admit this, and take appropriate measures, it would look as though it were intervening in the political process. The solution that the top brass have found is stunning in its simplicity: There is no need to make separate plans for what to do if the evacuation is canceled, because anything that is liable to happen then is already within the spectrum of expected scenarios in the fall if the evacuation is carried out.
What will happen if there is no evacuation? The same thing. A little war or a little peace - the IDF is planning for both alternatives, with the evacuation or without it, when the dust settles or if there is no dust. The renewal of terror, which this month has thus far killed seven Israelis, is taken into account before, during and after the evacuation, as is American pressure - there being no Europe - for an immediate continuation of the peace process.
A renewal of fighting in the north is possible, not certain, following the elections and the governments that have arisen in Lebanon and Iran, as a reminder of the connection between an Arab application of force and an Israeli withdrawal, or its cancellation. The blessed disengagement will not win Israel a reduction in pressures, and its cursed cancellation will not be considered a sign of the disintegration of the democratic state of Israel, but rather merely a defeat for its government. The "no" in the French public to the European constitution will be interpreted as Jacques Chirac's failure, not as the end of the road for the Fifth republic. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is not Israel. He is just a prime minister, who has not learned - yet - to hold proper elections before the minor evacuation, in the footsteps of which will come better, major evacuations.
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