A Tiny, but Important, Problem

Something seems to be unraveling in the decision-making process of the top levels of Israeli security and government.

When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak returned from his meeting last week with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Sharm al-Sheikh, the Egyptian press attacked Israel for turning the encounter into a failure with its military operation in Ramallah, in which four Palestinians were killed. This operation headed the agenda at Mubarak and Olmert's press conference.

How was such an operation authorized, and who ensures that non-military considerations are included in the deliberations? This apparently minor question - because 24 similar, successful military operations have already been conducted in Ramallah - has become important, because Israel Defense Forces' Chief of Staff Dan Halutz did not know about the operation. Nor did Defense Minister Amir Peretz, or Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh. The prime minister was also clearly surprised.

The decision was made by the command levels below GOC Central Command Yair Naveh. It would be difficult to assume that the head of the IDF General Staff's Operations Directorate knew nothing about the plans.

Since it wasn't the senior government or military officials, who took into account the fact that the PM would be meeting Egypt's president the following day? This factor is broader than the operational aspect. Ramallah is a sensitive city because of the Palestinian Authority institutions, television stations and foreigners there. The decision makers should have considered postponing the operation by 24 hours and arresting the wanted person - who was small potatoes anyway - a day later.

Surprisingly, the military secretary of neither the prime minister nor the defense minister informed the IDF that a diplomatic event was about to take place between Israel and Egypt. And what about the Operations Directorate? Something seems to be unraveling in the decision-making process of the top levels of Israeli security and government.

Israel, an old hand at military operations, is acting like a novice in this field. For years, a weekly meeting has been held to authorize Israel Air Force operations and missions beyond Israel's borders. The meetings, known by the Hebrew acronym MOG, are chaired by the defense minister. The military is represented by the chief of staff, the director of Military Intelligence in the General Staff, the IAF's commander-in-chief and the head of the Operations Directorate. The Ramallah operation proves the decision-making apparatus must be shaken up, and that an additional meeting must be held to authorize special operations in the territories.

Another tiny, but important, question concerns the agreement reached between Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert promised restrictions on the Palestinians would be eased extensively. Again, it is evident that discussions and promise-keeping are two separate things. Foot-dragging destroys the leaders' decisions. Nobody verifies whether the prime minister's decisions are being implemented on a daily basis.

Despite the random security checks, restrictions at checkpoints bordering northern Jerusalem are still tight. Restrictions have not been eased in northern Samaria. A joint IDF-Shin Bet security service commission has been established; however, most of the earth barriers in Samaria are intact. Although the Gaza Strip should be kept cut off from the West Bank, other restrictions should be eased. The Palestinians' complaints should be thoroughly investigated. The complaints of the women from MachsomWatch sometimes seem exaggerated; nonetheless, their field testimony should not be ignored.

In recent Hamas-Fatah clashes, children have been deliberately killed. Last month, the three small children of Fatah General Intelligence officer Baha Balusha were murdered while traveling to school in their father's car. Last week, Hamas attacked the home of a senior official in Fatah's Preventive Security Service, Mohammed Gharib, in Jabalya. The officer begged the assailants to spare him and his young daughters; however, they killed him and four of his bodyguards, and seriously wounded his daughters.

A few months ago, the earth shook when Palestinian civilians were killed by the IDF's misguided artillery fire on Beit Hanun. Tempers ran high in the United Nations, and leftist organizations in Israel demanded that an international commission of inquiry be established and that the GOC Southern Command be dismissed. When Palestinians kill Palestinian children - and not by accident - no criticism is heard.

Perhaps the professional critics consider such incidents too minor.