Reeling From Terror, Israel Peers Into Its Bank of Military Options, and Finds Little Left to Try

With little hope visible down the road, the government has balked at ordering fresh measures to combat unending Palestinian attacks. This has spurred despairing Israelis to propose an array of bizarre alternatives.

With nothing visible down the road but a tunnel at the end of the tunnel, Israel's security brass has balked at ordering fresh measures to combat unending Palestinian attacks. This has spurred despairing Israelis to propose an array of bizarre alternatives to nearly a year of inconsequential military gambits.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon summoned Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz and other senior commanders to a dead-of-night discussion at the army's Central Command headquarters to discuss responses to a brace of terrorist attacks Sunday. The attacks left five Israelis dead and nearly 100 injured in the space of five hours.

While the army might order retaliations in addition to Israel Defense Forces' ground and helicopter attacks that killed one Palestinian policeman on Sunday, no "new types of military operations" were approved, security sources said.

The apparent decision to stay the course militarily followed the cabinet's decision earlier on Sunday to gut an army plan to line the West Bank-Israel border with buffer zones, in which movement of Palestinians would be choked off to an absolute minimum.

The proposal - which sparked an angry, high-profile veto by Sharon when the military prepared to publicize it last week - also included establishment of detention camps and increased freedom for security forces to shoot at Palestinians found within the zones, according to security sources.

According to Ha'aretz military editor Ze'ev Schiff, Sharon's apparent motivation in torpedoing the IDF plan to strengthen the Green Line was political: Hawks fear that fortifying or otherwise marking the West Bank's pre-1967 war border could be construed as de facto recognition of the old border lines.

"Under the plan, the 1967 line defining Israel west of the Green Line and the settlements in the territories would, in effect, be redrawn," Schiff wrote in Monday's paper.

"A casual argument, involving issues of prestige, between Sharon's people and the personnel of the chief of staff, thus turned into a political debate that, in all likelihood, will have operational implications."

Israeli politicians were meanwhile lavish with suggestions Monday for changing the country's defense policies. Likud MK Yisrael Katz argued for a measure to outlaw the Israeli-Arab Islamic Movement, to which one of the suicide bombers belonged.

Ultra-rightist legislator and Minister of Tourism Rehavam Ze'evi suggested that the military take a lesson from National Geographic documentaries showing how gun-fired tranquilizer darts are used to anesthetize the likes of lions and panthers.

Ze'evi said the prime minister had approved in principle his proposal to limit movement of Palestinians on the Jordan Rift highway, scene of a deadly Sunday ambush shooting that targeted a van carrying Israeli teachers. But he said another of his proposals - allowing police to fire at the legs of Arabs who appeared to be potential suicide bombers - would be approved only after "we have another 50, 60, 100 victims, God forbid, so let's begin by anesthetizing them."

Army Radio was swamped with faxes Monday after asking its listeners to submit suggestions for new forms of Israeli action. The suggestions included such proposals as having Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "awaken each morning, wherever he is in the territories, to find that buildings within a 100 meter radius of his have been destroyed, in order to bring him to a state of fear and paranoia." Another listened said that all settlers should be paid double the value of their homes and "transferred" back to Israel proper, while Israeli Arabs would be sent to territory ruled by Arafat.

Ha'aretz military commentator Amir Oren said the government's limitations in stepping up military retaliations were dictated by political constraints - including the hope of renewed talks with the Palestinians -and by the prospective reaction of the world community to large-scale escalation.

"If what Israel is seeking is containment, not total 'victory,' then they have really very little in the way of new military options to explore," Oren said.

He said that both sides were exhibiting signs of flagging and fatigue, with even Palestinian officials voicing doubts about continuing a conflict that has shown negligible gains for either side. "But [the Palestinian] officials' reservations haven't swayed the picture, because Arafat is the one that counts, and he doesn't share their views."

As for Israel's lack of options, Oren said, in a reference to the Nahariya suicide bomber's hometown, an Israeli-Arab village near the northern city: "What can the government really do at this point? Bomb Abu Snan?"