Leading Israel to a Needless War

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's statement that the Israel Defense Forces' primary purpose from now on will be "to increase casualties" on the Palestinian side could bring onto the battlefield another 40,000 armed Palestinian soldiers, who are tensely waiting on the sidelines to enter the fray.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's statement that the Israel Defense Forces' primary purpose from now on will be "to increase casualties" on the Palestinian side could bring onto the battlefield another 40,000 armed soldiers, who are tensely waiting on the sidelines to enter the fray. These soldiers are not members of the IDF's Givati or Golani Brigade, but rather the members of the Palestinian police force, who, up until now, have not actively participated in the fighting against the IDF as an organized force.

If thousands of armed Palestinian police officers were to capture a Jewish settlement, the ministers in the Israeli cabinet would be taken by surprise. However, if they had bothered to study the scenarios discussed in the IDF, they would have discovered that the top brass understands all too well that, within the near future, the soldiers of the Palestinian police - a full-fledged army in every respect - will soon jump down from the fence and become an organized fighting force under a central command.

Palestinian police officers have already participated, on an isolated basis, in military operations against the IDF; however, the bulk of the Palestinian police, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, has not taken part in the fighting so far. This situation could change dramatically in the wake of the new policy Sharon has adopted, with the unqualified backing and support of IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz and his senior commanders.

In the dark shadow of terrorist and guerrilla activities, insufficient attention has been given to the briefing the prime minister provided correspondents last Monday. Sharon made it absolutely clear that, from now on, Israel would behave just like the Palestinians. The era of rationality has ended and gone are all the restrictions that the government of a sovereign state imposes on its army. From now on, the goal will be to kill as many Palestinians as possible. How different is a prime minister whose message is "They're going to get creamed," from West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti?

Apparently, unlike his cabinet ministers, Sharon knows very well that a policy whose sole purpose is to increase the number of dead among the Palestinians and which is not accompanied by any diplomatic goals will inevitably lead Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's organized army into the war. Quite possibly, that is precisely what the prime minister wants. When thousands of Palestinian police officers capture Jewish settlements or when they spread out at night along the Petah Tikva-Rosh Ha'ayin highway and then in the morning begin firing at dozens of vehicles, the way will be clear for a decision to occupy the entire West Bank.

The problem is that no one is restraining the prime minister. In the first intifada, it was the IDF top brass who clarified to the government that the intifada had no military solution. This time, on the other hand, the chief of staff is declaring time and time again that terrorism can be eliminated through military operations. When the terrorism only mounts, Mofaz explains that what is needed is resolution and an intensification of the military operations, because the Palestinians are close to the breaking point. Thus, the IDF has moved from the use of light weapons to the massive deployment of tanks, combat helicopters and F-16 fighter jets, and has moved from firing tanks at Beit Jala to capturing Tul Karm and Jenin. All these developments, of course, only increase the terrorists' motivation. When the IDF fails embarrassingly in defending its soldiers at military roadblocks, the answer is to capture refugee camps in Balata and Jenin.

The really frightening point is the monolithic thinking among the top brass. No senior IDF commander has the courage to tell Chief of Staff Mofaz that he might be wrong. The consensus in the IDF General Staff is that the continued, escalating use of force is inevitable. All the high-ranking officers have adopted the slogan "The IDF must prevent the Palestinians from making any gains through violent means." If the use of force does not produce the desired results, the only alternative is to use still more force - until the PA suffers a "soft collapse." This is the position of the members of the General Staff. Incidentally, none of them has the slightest notion what will happen in the territories after the PA collapses.

The IDF has failed but is refusing to admit this fact. Actually, the IDF is fighting the wrong war. So far it has not even begun to use its forces correctly in the territories. Instead of utilizing small, flexible, well-armed units, the IDF's senior command prefers to send in massive quantities of armor, as if Israel were fighting a regular army. Even in the simplest deployments in the field - in the roadblocks - the IDF has failed miserably. The massacre of the soldiers at the roadblock at Ofra is just the tip of the iceberg of the neglect, the disrespect for procedures and the utterly incomprehensible lack of communication between the top brass and the soldiers - especially reservists - in the field.

Thus, on the eve of Mofaz' departure from the IDF, he is still planning a crushing defeat for the Palestinians. If he took the time to read the history of the Algerian war of independence, he would understand that this victory can never be obtained because no army can defeat terrorism and guerrilla warfare whose source is resistance to occupation.

However, instead of learning from the experience of others, Mofaz is joining forces with Sharon, and the two of them, their eyes wide open, are leading Israel down the road to a cruel, needless war over the West Bank. Only after Nablus, Hebron and Bethlehem have been occupied and thousands and thousands have paid for that occupation with their lives, will it emerge that no one has won but both sides have lost.