The Standing Army Should Evacuate

Operating the standing army on its own can be a laboratory for testing a new model of the IDF, which costs billions of shekels more per year, but is also more disciplined and less divided.

The head of the National Security Council, Major General Giora Eiland, is supposed to hold a series of talks this week in Washington on the issue of the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and northern part of the West Bank. One of the most important of these discussions is due to take place at the World Bank. The provision of external monetary assistance, in and of itself - and even more so, as a precedent - will be crucial for convincing the public on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides that it will benefit from the evacuation of settlements, the orderly transfer of assets and infrastructure, and the resettlement of the evacuees. If the first stage of the evacuation is budgeted at about NIS 2 billion, and includes fewer than 10,000 settlers, it is easy to estimate how much the evacuation of over 100,000 settlers from the West Bank will cost, although the exact number depends on the final borders stipulated in the arrangement.

The U.S. administration and Congress, which are willing to pay for the transfer of Israel Defense Forces bases to the Israeli side of the Green Line, and even to invest tens of billions in the reconstruction of Iraq after the war (much of that to the pockets of American contractors), will not be stingy in the advent of a bilateral agreement. But it is more convenient and more correct to look for broader support, of the kind that is likely to be found in the World Bank, rather than only American assistance.

As long as the evacuation is funded only from Israel's state budget, this means that Israelis are paying for improving the settlers' standard of living. The settlers have received many benefits over the years to encourage them to live in the territories, or at least to maintain homes there (and actually to live somewhere else), and now they will receive an alternative asset, which involves a substantial profit.

From a social point of view, this is a scandalous injustice: This is not the just way to divide the national wealth. That is why the security rationale has been invoked: It's worthwhile to buy the agreement of the settlers to evacuate, because without such agreement the Palestinians will not calm down, and there will be no peace and security. This is the local parallel to the Nunn-Lugar amendment to the Pentagon budget law, by dint of which billions of dollars are granted to Russia for use in dismantling superfluous nuclear weapons, because every dollar invested in the reduction of the threat saves $10 in American empowerment.

Although the entire vision of the evacuation still seems doubtful - the first casualties from among the evacuators or the evacuees (and among the latter and their supporters some will make sure that there will indeed be casualties) will scare the Likud ministers and lead to a cessation of the whole undertaking - preparations for the implementation of it are, in any case, continuing. Ostensibly, the government has made a decision on the dispute between the army and the police regarding the question of responsibility for the evacuation. The army won, or in other words, chickened out. The police sighed, began to look for former policemen in the ranks of the Israel Defense Forces reserves, and has decided to operate two administrations under the command of brigadier generals, one for planning and logistical support, and one for coordinating the force (apparently the headquarters of the Border Police brigade, which will be manned - or replaced in another sector - by 20 reserve companies, each of them including about 70 policemen). At national headquarters, with a deliberate wink, the coordination of the preparations was assigned to a "new broom," the head of police operations Commander Berti Ohayun, until recently the head of the immigration police.

The discussion of the color of the uniforms of the evacuators - army green or police blue - is missing the point. The State of Israel has at its disposal a resource that is routinely underused, and is waiting to justify its existence during times of emergency and crisis: the standing army. Almost 40,000 officers and NCOs, not all of them combat-trained, many of them clerks with insignia on their shoulders and decorations on their chests, receive their salary and their early retirement from the state treasury. Even after subtracting the essential personnel among them to be on ongoing alert - in the air combat squadrons and the combat brigades and the intelligence installations - some 20,000 of them can be concentrated, in frameworks of majors from the "Kirya" (IDF headquarters) in Tel Aviv and sergeant majors from the Tzrifin army base, to carry out a supreme national mission that is not particularly difficult to learn.

The lessons of the previous evacuation (Yamit), the checkpoints in the territories and the contact with citizens, in general, indicate that it is preferable to send mature, realistic soldiers and policemen for such a mission, people with families and responsibility. This description suits the members of the standing army, for whom their military service is a little bit of mission and a lot of livelihood. As opposed to units of draftees and reservists, there will be nobody refusing orders in the standing army - anyone who refuses will be dismissed, his contract will be canceled, and he will lose his rights. And just as the evacuation of Gaza and the four settlements in the West Bank will be an exercise in preparation for the major evacuation, operating the standing army on its own can be a laboratory for testing a new model of the IDF, which costs billions of shekels more per year, but is also more disciplined and less divided.