Security Before Peace

With chilling testimony, an American official in the region has illustrated the chain of events that are distancing Palestine from peace with Israel and bringing war ever closer.

The senior officer class in the Israel Defense Forces is lacking a star. Many members of the class act like stars, and there is a Stern (Elazar) and a Kochavi (Aviv), but the group of officers lacks a fourth star for a full general's rank, as is customary in the large armies of the world. The chief of staff, a lieutenant general, is always subordinate to his counterparts from around the world because he only has three stars, and a division commander in Israel, a brigadier general in the IDF, is junior to counterparts in the west, who are major generals. The gap between the local and external status can be bridged, without adding a shekel to wages, by simply updating the gaps in the ranks above colonel to coincide with international conventions. The previous commander of the navy, Rear Admiral Yedidia Ya'ari, didn't wait for this, and in his contacts with foreign counterparts granted himself a third star, that of a vice-admiral.

One of the interlocutors of the members of the General Staff - and the most senior of them, with his three stars - is the American general who serves as "security coordinator" for the Palestine-Israel arena. And the coordinator's slogan is: "I came, I saw, I was promoted." There are some who reap the rewards at the end of the year, as a bonus, while others receive an advance.

In the wake of the evacuation of Gaza and the completion of preparations for the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council, the first coordinator, William Ward, was rewarded with a fourth star and named commander of the U.S. ground forces in Europe. Ward's successor, Keith Dayton, got a third star from President Bush in order to continue what Ward had started with regard to reforming the structure, staff and doctrine of the Palestinian security forces; but Dayton had barely touched down when the Hamas victory dealt his dispatcher a crushing blow from which he will have a hard time recovering.

Ward is a combat commander who maintains a tough and determined expression on his face. Dayton represents the image of the quiet, scholarly intelligence officer. Ward was won over by the Palestinians, or the moderate image they tried to project; and perhaps he, too, suspected that the truth was different, but he meticulously mumbled the lines dictated to him from Washington. Dayton clashes head-on with the contradiction between the American support for Palestinian democracy and the results of the elections, and the absolute boycott of the Hamas as a terror organization that refuses to disarm and recognize Israel.

At a congressional hearing last week, Dayton essentially adopted the Israeli principle of security before peace - in effect since September 2000 and the collapse of the Oslo process, and formulated by former members of the General Staff's planning department, Eival Giladi and Giora Eiland, who impressed it upon the Ariel Sharon government.

With chilling testimony, Dayton illustrated the chain of events that are distancing Palestine from peace with Israel and bringing war ever closer. There won't be peace without security for Israel; there won't be security - and there won't be a Palestinian state - without the unification and purging of the security mechanisms; no changes will be made to the security mechanisms without U.S. involvement, and there won't be U.S. involvement if Hamas is running the government in general, and the security mechanisms in particular. If there is no U.S. involvement, there won't be any money; and if there's no way to ensure that the money goes to the miserable rather than the dangerous, the distress and hostility will increase.

Rejecting Hamas does not mean saluting Mahmoud Abbas. Dayton spoke with disappointment about Abbas' weakness even before the elections, noting that "the lack of political will resulted in little progress in either security sector performance or reform." Abbas is now voicing a feeble attempt to get some of the mechanisms under his control - presumably Force 17 and the Internal Security force headed by Rashid Abu Shbak; but as is his wont, he does not want to deal with Hamas, and this time perhaps, he isn't able to either.

Dayton's message, like that of his counterparts in the IDF and Shin Bet security service, is bleak and tangible: Things will get bad or very bad - and soon. The relatively small number of lethal terror attacks is misleading. The terror organizations are not waiting until after the elections in Israel. Only the success of preventive operations lies between the slumber and the escalation.