What Will They Fight Over?

IDF chief Gantz is sandwiched between a government that is losing its way and an army that is at risk of facing a severe crisis of confidence.

Col. Oren Avman is the commander of the largest brigade in the Israel Defense Forces, the Kfir Brigade in the Central Command, which includes six battalions and thousands of soldiers - more fighters than there are in the entire navy. One of the battalions, either Haruv or Duhifat, will become a reconnaissance battalion in the coming year, when the Kfir Brigade gets upgraded to a high-level Infantry Corps brigade.

Before that happens, though, the Kfir battalions, along with other forces, can expect to find themselves in a tough conflict with the Palestinians in the West Bank. Though the clashes could begin at any moment, they are most likely to take place at the end of August or the begining of September, ahead of discussions in the United Nations about the establishment of a Palestinian state with extensive international support. Israel will be forced into a defensive position on two fronts: the diplomatic one at the United Nations and the security one, which will range from northern Samaria via Jerusalem to southern Judea.

On the ground, there are no clear signs of the imminent confrontation. A misleading quiet prevails, one that can be attributed to successes racked up by the IDF and Shin Bet security service and to the intensive activity of the Palestinian Authority security forces. But the absence of warning signs cannot be seen as an indicator of what is going to happen. Developments in the West Bank are not linear; they resemble a jack in the box that is liable to jump out at any moment.

Last week, Avman and the commander of Kfir's Duhifat Battalion took a trip from the battalion base in Beit El to an observation post overlooking the Ayosh Junction north of Ramallah. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Raz Sarig, remembers being a young commander in the same battalion a decade ago and witnessing how quickly everything went haywire on the day the riots broke out in the territories at the beginning of the second intifada. That morning, he was peacably traveling through the same intersection as Palestinian cars; by the afternoon, he and his soldiers had to take cover from the bullets of snipers hiding among hundreds of protesters. And later still, the Armored Corps was called in for backup and the rocky area became known as Tank Hill.

Sarig knows just how immediate and abrupt the transition can be from economic growth and cease-fire to violent confrontations. Avman learned the lesson even earlier, in Lebanon, where he was the last commander of Beaufort Castle before Israel's withdrawal from the area in 2000. Despite preparations for the IDF's pullout from the security zone and the deadline set for it, there was nonetheless a sudden breakdown, in the form of a chain of events that began with a popular procession and led to the collapse of the South Lebanon Army and Hezbollah's exploitation of the circumstances.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - and if not them, then the (as yet ) anonymous youths who will raise the banner of revolt and lead the next challenge facing Israel - will be even more tempted to do this in another six months or so. It's the spirit of the time, the spirit of the region, and in a campaign of both firepower and maneuver, it will be the belligerent move that assists the diplomatic storming of the United Nations, without a single shot being fired by the Palestinians.

Enough with popular rallies, to mass processions and the incitement of thousands or tens of thousands of people facing the world's cameras. Encouraged by the example of the Arab states over the last few months, the Palestinians won't worry about reducing international sympathy for them - a sympathy that, on the wings of the Goldstone report and the Mavi Marmara raid, will increase and keep the IDF from effectively using its weapons. Thus will the old Arab dream come true, that of using foreign intervention to help curtail Israel's military advantage.

The IDF did beat Palestinian terror, but five or six years have since passed and the children who have grown up did not experience Operation Defensive Shield and its consequences. The impression made by force has diminished. It took about the same amount of time for Egypt to go from being defeated in the Six-Day War to initiating the Yom Kippur War.

When the Palestinians make their effort to compel Israel to recognize a state whose borders have been agreed upon by the rest of the world, and even by a majority of Israelis, to what end will Israel's government send the IDF to fight them? What will be the reasons given for the army to keep the Palestinians in check, at the high price exacted by Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and their colleagues, including those who themselves are calling for a Palestinian state, even if not through these methods? What explanations will be given for orders to fire and missions encapsulated by the concept that it is good to die for our land (but not for our country )? Will it be justified by fear of the settlers and the right wing of the Likud party?

That which Avman experienced in Lebanon and Sarig experienced in the West Bank has also been experienced by their commander, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who yesterday paid a surprise visit to the Kfir training base. Gantz is sandwiched between a government that is losing its way and an army that is at risk of facing a severe crisis of confidence. He must issue a staunch warning now against an unnecessary war that is bound to fail and that must be headed off by a peace initiative.