Ready and Able

One afternoon last week, dozens of police from the Central District gathered in a forest clearing near Modi'in to practice coping with disturbances of public order: investigators and reconnaissance personnel from Netanya and Rehovot, in a social atmosphere like an annual outing and an active vacation, tempered by impatient waiting for the event to end and the ride home.

They were put through their paces by the professionals: Chief Superintendent Jihad Hassan and his colleagues from the public-disturbances unit of the Border Police training base at Beit Horon, north of Jerusalem. The Border Police's public-disturbances doctrine was developed by police Brigadier General Avi Shirizali and Chief Superintendent Yaron Polombo. Hassan and his colleagues are updating it and examining its application by means of exercises ("quick and irritable").

What's emphasized, for example, in the wake of legal advice, is the lawful requirement to preserve the dignity, life and property of those being dispersed; the preference to have women and children evacuated by women, even though there is no ban on men doing this; and the media environment, which the rioters are aiming at.

There are four levels of disturbances, reaching to life-endangering violence, and, accordingly, also four tiers of authority for activating means of evacuation, each under the command of a chief superintendent, with mounted police and water cannons in reserve. At the third tier, only a district commander has the power to permit the firing of foam bullets and stun grenades. At the fourth and final tier, the police commissioner has the power to authorize the use of rubber-coated bullets.

As its commander, Major General Yisrael Yitzhak says, the Border Police unit is "a homogeneous, organic and professional force," as distinguished from a random collection of people in uniform, khaki or blue, who have gathered for a mission they are not eager or not qualified to carry out. In the eyes of the police, the Border Police are too army-like, and in the eyes of the army they are too police-like. Instead of being lauded, the unit is treated like a contract worker. For purposes of evacuation, the army views them in the same way Intel views non-Jewish employees: as "Shabbat goys."

The cooperation pact between the Israel Defense Forces and the Border Police is not being implemented, because only the basic budget document has been signed, and not the annex. The IDF, which was supposed to transfer advanced vehicles to the Border Police, waited until a fresh shipment arrived and was about to hand over used vehicles. Furious, Yitzhak refused. We are used to you seeing us as second-class, he hurled at a major general, but we will not agree to always be the lowest of the low.

When the vehicles he demanded arrive, he will put them into service only in the colors of the Border Police. This is not only a matter of honor: both the Palestinians and the settlers take a different attitude toward the appearance of a permanent Border Police unit. An army vehicle might mean tired reservists or a conscript battalion passing through the sector. Moreover, a Border Police company is cheaper than the equivalent army unit. An annual saving of NIS 50 million could be achieved if the Border Police were given appropriate means in Central Command.

The rebellion of the banners in the Nachshon and Shimshon battalions exposed the true scale of the haplessness of the government, the defense minister, the General Staff and Central Command. The politicians have been talking for years, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for the past two years, about an evacuation by force if the dialogue fails, etc., and citing considerations of enforcement, etc., etc. But nothing is happening and the opponents of evacuation understand the message.

This is also a failure of field security. The resources of the department of information security in Military Intelligence were invested to the bursting point in the fateful mission of intercepting conversations between officers and journalists. No attention was left for locating, analyzing and identifying subversives who infiltrate the army, singly and in groups, only in order to brandish the banner of rebellion. Large holes have appeared in the net that is supposed to be cast by information security, the Jewish division of the Shin Bet security services and the Central Unit of the Shai (Samaria-Judea) District of the police. In addition, lawbreakers in the Gaza and north Samaria evacuations were forgiven and pardoned, though not the police officers who used force against them.

This week, while the political and judicial systems wondered was going on in the Or committee to find candidates for the post of attorney general, the Border Police also thought about the Or Commission, in a way that has repeated itself almost weekly for the past nine years. The same Justice Theodor Or who headed the commission of inquiry that investigated the disturbances of October 2000, and the sections of the commission's findings that dealt with professionalizing the handling of disturbances of order. The riots took place inside Israel and the IDF was not involved, which is not something self-evident, because in certain spheres and events the responsibility lies with the army's Home Front Command, but a cardinal lesson was the need to create a well-equipped and well-trained professional body. That body exists in the form of the Border Police, if it is utilized properly. To that end, three ministries which are usually at odds with one another - finance, defense and public security - have to reach rare agreement on funding. The overriding problem is the government's. If they want peace, and understand that peace with the Palestinians and the Syrians entails the evacuation of settlements in the West Bank and on the Golan Heights, and that the evacuation will encounter stiff resistance, and that in order to overcome it an efficient state instrument is required, they do not have to invent it from scratch. It already exists.

There are about 8,000 fighters in the Border Police, and that is a clever term intended to cover both the career personnel and the conscripts. One of every ten fighters is an officer. One of every 12 is a Druze (more among the officers, where the ratio is one of every five or six). It's a force with one major general, five brigadier generals and 15 men with the rank of commander. Occasionally there are initiatives to separate the Border Police from the Israel Police and subordinate it directly to the public security minister. Avigdor Kahalani devised such a plan when he was public security minister, and a like plan was attributed to the former commander of the Border Police and head of the Prisons Service, Yaakov Ganot, if Avi Dichter's plan to appoint Ganot police commissioner in 2007 had been implemented. The present minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, will not force the police to forgo a quarter of its strength, the more so because it's a strong quarter without which the police will have a hard time operating, unless Aharonovitch gets 3,000 new personnel slots from the treasury.

The definition of the powers allocated to the commander of the Border Police weakens him as compared to others who hold the same rank: the commanders of the districts, who rule in their sectors, and the heads of the branches, who dictate the policy of police national headquarters. The commander of the Border Police is not really a commander. He is only a chief corps officer, who in theory builds the force but in practice hews trees for the building, from the officers' cellular phones to the patrol vehicles.

Major General Yitzhak, a tough manager but widely considered to be fair, takes a high-handed approach with his officers. He interviews and approves each officer candidate. Recently he dismissed the commander of a training company who did not prevent his men from violating the prohibition on drinking alcohol while on duty. The new recruits drank beer at a pub while on an "after" - a break after duty but not formal leave. The company commander was not strict with them, but Yitzhak was strict with him.

In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Yitzhak fought in an armored reconnaissance unit of the 7th Brigade in the bitter battles against Syrian commandos on the Golan Heights. His commanders and buddies were killed all around him and in his armored personnel carrier, and he himself was wounded and survived only because the Syrians, who were just meters away from the burning, out-of-action APC, did not bother to execute confirmation of kill. After the war he became an officer and after his discharge returned to Moshav Zacharia, a cooperative farming village west of Jerusalem, where he grew flowers for a living until he was lured into joining the Border Police.

His only police job besides the Border Police was as commander of the Shai District. There he clashed with settlers but also felt that they respected the straight dealing of the policemen - not all of them, it's true - who stuck to the regulations, as opposed to the winking attitude of IDF officers. The leader of one of the settlements he had to evacuate and demolish informed him that he was against the evacuation and that on Wednesday at 11 P.M. the youth club would be empty and could easily be dismantled.

In Yitzhak's first years in service, three decades ago, the Border Police were a contractor for dispersing demonstrators, sometimes six or ten times a week, from workers protesting the closing of a mine at Timna, to Druze on the annexed Golan Heights who refused to accept Israeli citizenship. There are now two national Border Police companies for this purpose ("Coral" and "Sapphire"), each manned by about 300 fighters, though for a concentrated effort dozens of companies can be brought in. The Border Police territorial commands in the police districts are intended to serve also as task-force headquarters.

Border Police headquarters is designated to manage a mega-terror arena, if, for example, there should be two such events in a district such as Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. The subordination is unimportant: Major General Yitzhak was subordinate to Tal Russo, then a brigadier general, in the evacuation of northern Samaria in 2005.

Yitzhak was due to retire this year, but Police Commissioner David Cohen asked him to wait until the spring-summer of 2011, when the next commissioner is due to take office. Unlike the GOCs of Central Command across the generations, and unlike some of his predecessors as commander of the Border Police who went on to become potential candidates for commissioner, Yitzhak has no such pretensions; he almost left as a brigadier general during the tenure of Moshe Karadi as commissioner, and his only dream - to be commander of the Border Police - has already been realized.

He is sufficiently lacking in any desire to settle political accounts to execute the missions that will be assigned him and make do with proving the effectiveness of the Border Police. Maybe in this way he will help rebuff the contradiction that characterizes the Border Police: a feeling of professional superiority on the one hand, and on the other the inferiority complex generated by the attitude of the surrounding military and police environment.

Israel's defense establishment sanctifies the flexibility of the people's army, which is based largely on the infantry, in the regular army and the reserves, but alongside the large and amateur formations there are also professional career bodies: the Air Force, the Navy, the Shin Bet, the Mossad, nuclear research. When the IDF will obtain a rocket-interception system, the communities in the Negev and Galilee will expect it to be permanent and professional.

Evacuation, too, is a profession, and not because the IDF generals loathe it. This situation can be seen as a test of the Israeli government's seriousness. If the government understands that it has the duty to remove the obstacles it has placed on the road to peace, whether by its own actions or by closing its eyes and demonstrating impotence, it has the tools to do this. All that's needed is the decision to use them.