The changing of the ministers at the Defense Ministry is, as expected, leading to a change in the tone emanating from the ministry. Avigdor Lieberman new approach has yet to manifest itself in actual new measures, beyond revoking the entrance permit from a senior Palestinian Authority official.
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But in a conversation with journalists conducted on Wednesday by someone who we will refer to as a senior Defense Ministry official, there were messages conveyed that were decidedly differently from those put across by the previous minister, Moshe Ya’alon.
The new doctrine portrays PA President Mahmoud Abbas as the State of Israel’s main problem as the one who is conducting “diplomatic terror” against it; a future war in Gaza is inevitable; and while Israel must only fight a war of no choice over which there is a total political consensus, if there is war in Gaza it must end with the overthrow of the Hamas regime.
Ya’alon wasn’t a big fan of Abbas either, nor did he think that negotiations with the current Palestinian leadership would yield real diplomatic achievements. But the Israel Defense Forces leadership, and in the end Ya’alon as well, stressed the necessity of security cooperation with the PA to stop the wave of terror that began in October. Now, it seems that outlook has changed. The senior official said Abbas is exploiting Israel’s weakness in the diplomatic arena to attack it internationally; quoted a poll showing that 65 percent of Palestinians oppose the Abbas regime; and slammed the intervention of Mohammed al-Madani, the PA official responsible for contacts with Israel (whose entry permit was suspended), for intervening in Israeli politics.
Although the response to the killing of four civilians in the Sarona market hasn’t veered radically from defense establishment conduct in the past, there are winds of a new approach. Under Lieberman, collective punishment, to which Ya’alon and Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot vehemently objected, is no longer a dirty word. For now, the work permits of some 200 relatives of the Sarona market terrorists have been revoked, as have more than 80,000 entrance permits that had been granted to Palestinians as a gesture for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. But there were hints that it wouldn’t end there.
There’s been a sharp U-turn on the return terrorists’ remains to their families. The IDF, the Shin Bet security service and the previous minister objected to holding bodies, saying it was no deterrent and only provoked the populations of those villages and towns where the terrorists lived. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, however, imposed the opposite policy in areas under police control – East Jerusalem and within the Green Line. Lieberman, it seems, prefers Erdan’s position. He has instructed not to return any bodies, saying this will help Israel gain the release of two Israeli civilians being held in Gaza, as well as the remains of two soldiers that were never recovered.
Lieberman told the IDF top brass when he met with them that he would not choose to launch a war. The senior official expressed a similar view: Israel must be cautious, not adventurous. However, he added, there should be no illusions about Hamas. Giving Gaza a port is “totally ridiculous” and the chance of reaching a diplomatic agreement with the terror group is nil (“like the chance of a cannibal becoming a vegetarian”). The group, he said, is not interested in the welfare of Gaza’s residents. It has only one objective – destroying the State of Israel – and that’s why it’s building up its military strength.
The conclusion of all this is that a military confrontation with Hamas is inevitable, but Israel needn’t rush into it, he said. When it comes, it must work to overthrow the Hamas regime. Someone will have to take charge there after the war, but not Abbas, since that wouldn’t be in Israel’s interests.
If these declarations are serious, and they certainly were presented on Tuesday as such, then the IDF is going to have to update its operational plans very quickly.