Ha’aretz Daily on Monday, February 10, 2003
Notwithstanding last Wednesday’s serious incident in Nablus, in which two soldiers were killed, the defense establishment can derive some satisfaction from two recent turns in the war on terror. One is the recent efforts by the Palestinian Authority – the first such in a long time – to halt the firing of Kassam rockets from Gaza into Israel.
The second is statistical. There are still suicide bombings, and will apparently continue to be in the coming months, but the ratio of successful to failed attempts has changed radically.
The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) now foils about 15 suicide bombings for every one that succeeds.
Optimists could view both of these developments as the first tentative confirmation of the General Staff’s recent assessment that “the worst of the conflict with the Palestinians is already behind us” – and in the light of the anticipated American attack on Iraq, which Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon expects to produce “a regional earthquake.”
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz made one recent comment which attracted little attention in Israel but the Palestinians noted it very carefully. He said in interview with Israel Radio that if the Kassam rocket fire from Gaza continued, Israel would consider reoccupying the Gaza Strip. Although an invasion is far from happening – and the wisdom of it is hotly disputed within the IDF – yet this was no slip of the tongue.
“The Palestinians are developing a real fear of losing the Strip,” a senior General Staff officer told Haaretz. “Mofaz made them made them worry that what has already happened in the West Bank will happen in Gaza as well. So far the PA has succeeded in retaining relative control in Gaza. Its senior officials have much to lose if their reign there collapses.”
The Palestinians are very aware of something that most Israelis have barely noticed – before the outbreak of the Intifada in September 2000, Gaza was a Palestinian “sea” with a few “islands” of settlements, but is now a collection of isolated Palestinian enclaves surrounded by wide “corridors” controlled by the IDF. They also understand that IDF operations to stop the rocket fire, such as those now being conducted around Beit Hanun, could easily be transformed into a permanent IDF presence in these areas.
Another reason for the PA’s activities – so far limited to a few arrests and a raid on a Hamas rocket warehouse – is the ineffectiveness of the rocket fire. The rockets have caused almost no damage, yet have provoked harsh Israeli retaliation deep inside Gaza. When the Palestinian militias urge their members to confront IDF tanks, these confrontations usually end with many dead militants and widespread damage to the surrounding area – causing many of the residents to oppose such confrontations.
The failure of the Cairo talks, which the PA viewed as a “slap in the face,” also prompted it to start taking action. Hamas was strengthened by these talks – Egypt recognized it as the PA’s de facto equal – without conceding anything in exchange. Mofaz believes Hamas has already become an alternative that threatens future PA rule.
The IDF does not believe the PA can halt the rocket fire for long. But it does believe that all of the above developments have strengthened the feeling among certain key Palestinian officials – Mohammed Dahlan, General Majaida, Rashid Abu-Shabak – that the intifada has exhausted its usefulness, and the current efforts against the Kassams are a sign of this.