The Kishon of the Territories

The Kishon River killed, Mofaz ruled Sunday, in a characteristic decision meant to please the public. The outposts in the territories are Mofaz's Kishon, and belatedly cleaning them up does not cleanse him of his responsibility.

Six months and two fatalities too late, the Israel Defense Forces this week evacuated the wildcat outpost known as Antenna Hill, south of Mt. Hebron. Evacuated and not dismantled, as an ongoing activity - preserving the achievement in IDF language - because the evacuation is never complete as long as the settlers return to become squatters in the place from which their belongings were removed.

For some reason, the phenomenon of the outposts, or squats, has never spilled over from the West Bank into the Gaza Strip. Maybe the settlers there have conceded their eventual evacuation, or maybe they are deterred by the population density inside and the fence outside. As in certain orders, there are outposts that are simply illegal, which are not to be removed unless the court decrees so, and then there are the blatantly illegal outposts that everyone agrees should be removed without delay.

But even when the principle has been set, the timing is always waiting for the right moment. It's not nice to do it soon after a terror attack in the area, and it's not worth it during those valuable periods when an operational infantry battalion is finally getting in some training. Nor is election eve a realistic time to evacuate outposts and when a new defense minister arrives on the job, it's illogical, and so on and so forth.

But outposts kill - that's what happened on March 13 at the fake antenna, which as a sin to compound the crime was being guarded by the regional council's armed mercenaries until they were shot dead mistakenly by Magellan unit bullets and a missile from a combat chopper. By whom, and under what authority were the guards sent to protect the hill? There is no clear answer, just a detailed tale of relations between the army and police, the council and the security coordinator and Tamnun, the security company hired for the job.

Police will be called up immediately to arrest a squatter in Tel Aviv, for example at the Bread Square protest in Kikar Hamedina, if the squatter dares to use a weapon to threaten anyone they regard as obstructing their intrusion. But in the territories, such behavior is welcomed by the authorities and the army is required to guard the guards, due to the pretensions about providing security for every Israeli, even if he or she is busy with illegal activity. The two guards who were killed, trained combat soldiers from the Egoz unit, were sent to the hill by the settlers after the army feared for the lives of their predecessors who were caught sleeping while on duty.

The guards who were killed, or others, could have opened fire at an army force in camouflage, and the danger of being killed hovered over any Israeli citizens who might have moved through the area in a manner that appeared suspicious to the guards, who were protecting an area that had seen plenty of terror attacks in the past. Shoot first and ask questions later is the norm. There are many possible scenarios, but in effect the illegal outpost that was nearly, nearly, nearly - but still not - evacuated, was to blame for the two guards' deaths.

The head of the Central Command, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinski, mostly punished the Hebron Brigade Commander, Col. Haggai Mordechai, whose promotion to commander of the Paratroopers brigade was temporarily frozen, though not canceled altogether. It's expected he'll win the promotion in the next round, in another two years. That means Kaplinski's judgment was faulty, since only a few months ago he appointed Mordechai as Hebron commander and designated him as the next Paratroops brigade commander.

Brig. Gen. Amos Ben-Avraham, commander of the Judea corps, was on the receiving end of a Kaplinski warning, for reporting that he had his doubts but did not intervene and halt the operation. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is supposed to be king, but in the IDF, the person who keeps one eye open gets spat upon while the blind continue to get promoted with surety.

This is military hypocrisy: If the head of the Central Command, the sovereign in the area, understood that the illegal outposts should be evacuated but he preferred the constraints imposed by relations with the settlers and legal nuances instead of conducting the evacuation before the disaster, he is responsible no less than Ben-Avraham. The same holds true, though for some more and others less, for Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, the government coordinator in the territories Amos Gilad, and especially Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

The Kishon River killed, Mofaz ruled Sunday, in a characteristic decision meant to please the public. The outposts in the territories are Mofaz's Kishon, and belatedly cleaning them up does not cleanse him of his responsibility.