Ehud Barak Hamas Israel Israeli occupation Middle East peace process Palestinians

What would you do if you were Israel’s Defense Minister?

There has been no shortage of commentary about the prospects –or lack therof–for successful negotiations after Annapolis. I have yet to read much that is not predictable. But Yediot Aharonot’s military correspondent, Alex Fishman, wrote an original piece today about the concrete challenges facing Israel’s security establishment. It is, of course, politically incorrect in some circles to worry about Israel’s security or its need to protect its citizens, or to consider the realities on the ground that Israeli military and intelligence professionals must cope with. The anti-Israelists can’t allow themselves to be bothered with insignificant matters like protecting mothers and babies from being blown up in supermarkets in Netanya or Afula. But everyone else who wants to end the conflict needs to be concerned.

In order for Olmert, Abbas and Rice to make diplomatic progress, Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, will have to figure out how to unravel the Gordian knot that Fishman describes.

Here are excerpts in translation from today’s article, courtesy of Israel News Today, a daily service that is, alas, not available online. Read it, then start praying (or whatever it is you do when you yearn deeply for something):

by Alex Fishman

The declaration at Annapolis on beginning to work for a permanent status arrangement—with target dates, puts the Israeli security establishment in a nearly intolerable situation. A situation in which it has to maneuver between momentum in the peace process, which means taking measured military steps, and a serious security crisis, including expecting a series of terror attacks and attempts to sabotage the peace process…

…We’ve already been to this movie, in the years 1995-1996. Then too, Israel was meant to start talks with the Palestinian Authority on a permanent status arrangement. But then Hamas carried out a series of particularly serious terror attacks, which prevented the talks from starting, which also toppled the Israeli government and also caused all the agreements signed up to then with the PA to collapse.

When the wave of terror attacks began, the prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, coined the slogan: we will battle terror as if there are no talks and we will hold talks as if there is no war. It didn’t work. The security establishment could not take the tension between the peace process momentum and terror. The PA was unable, and perhaps didn’t want, to control the terror. Israel wavered in its response so as not to weaken the PA and terror won.

This lesson greatly worries the security establishment as 2008 approaches, since Hamas and Iran will make every effort to sabotage the talks. It is believed that in Gaza, Hamas will try not to break all the rules so as not to provoke the IDF into going inside despite everything. But in the West Bank, Hamas has been waking up militarily for a few months: there are new cells, new groupings. They have no ideological or pragmatic inhibition about committing mass terror attack murders in Israel. As they see it, the West Bank is under occupation and the war continues. Perhaps, the security establishment assesses, there will not be street riots of the kind that there were at the beginning of the Intifada, since the public in the West Bank is clear-eyed and weary.

But terror and attempts to undermine the PA and Israeli willpower—this there will be aplenty. In light of all the expected threats, the security establishment is supposed to walk delicately so that the PA will not collapse…

…To help build the Palestinian power base, the Americans plan to establish a steering committee headed by Tony Blair, General Dayton and a political envoy of President Bush, to supervise the establishment of the security, governmental and economic institutions of the PA and to monitor the implementation of the first stage of the road map. The stage that includes PA action against terror. The Americans will have to invest a great deal of money and time until they are able to see a loyal and effective military force.

The security establishment believes that intensive work will be necessary, of at least one to two years to breathe life into this vegetable and bring it to a situation in which it can handle opposition on the ground. Any attempt to speed up the process and to give the PA security responsibility too early, say high-ranking security sources, will bring to the West Bank what we have in Gaza: the build-up of a Hamas military force and high trajectory fire from the West Bank at Israel.

Either way, whether the Annapolis process succeeds in getting underway or not, we are facing a difficult security year in the territories.

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