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IDF Chief Of Staff Yaalon: 'Terror Flare-up On West Bank After Disengagement, If Abu Mazen Does Not Crack Down'

'Yesterday's Palestinian Attack Reflects Trend In Gaza Strip'

Government May Postpone Gaza Withdrawal Because of Religious Holiday

PM Ariel Sharon

IDF Chief of Staff, General Moshe Yaalon warns of increased Palestinian terror attacks on the West Bank after Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip that is slated for sometime this summer. On April 15th, IsraCast interviewed analyst Shalom Harari who revealed that Israeli security services forecast the Palestinians may launch Intifada#3 toward the end of the year.In the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian shooting attack wounded an IDF soldier and an Israeli civilian in the Philadelfi Axis security zone. Meanwhile in a surprise development, the Gaza evacuation may be postponed for three weeks because of a religious holiday.

IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon

'A flare-up of Palestinian terror attacks is expected on the West Bank after the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this summer.' That's the assessment of the outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon. At a public gathering General Yaalon added: 'The disengagement is not going to bring the Messiah'. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz recently sparked a storm of protest when he refused to extend the Chief of Staff's term of duty by the customary one year. However, General Yaalon is not the only one to warn that a new Palestinian intifada is on the way. Intelligence analyst Shalom Harari told IsraCast just four days ago that the security services also believe a new intifada will soon erupt if Palestinian President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) does not rein in the terrorists. The Chief of Staff's warning will obviously add fuel to the flames of the controversial withdrawal that is now raging in Israel.

Gaza Strip - but not only on the West Bank; over the past seven days there have been mounting Palestinian attacks in the Gaza Strip. Yesterday in the Philadelfi Security zone, an IDF soldier was seriously wounded and an Israeli civilian was lightly injured when a Palestinian sniper opened fire. They were working on a high wall in the security zone that is designed to prevent such attacks from the Egyptian side of the border. Over the past seven days there have been 22 Palestinian attacks in the Gaza Strip during the current 'cease-fire'. They include 10 shooting incidents, 5 launchings of Qassam, mortars as well as an anti- tank missile and the planting of 6 bombs. The IDF charges: 'The Palestinian Authority is not doing a thing to halt the attacks!' Palestinian officials reply: 'We can't stop every isolated sniper although our security forces have 100% motivation!'

Disengagement Delay? Surprise, surprise! The Gaza evacuation planned to start on July 20th falls within a Jewish penitence period linked to Tisha B'Av, the Hebrew calendar date marking the fall of the Biblical Temples on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. It now turns out that after the cabinet decision, the legal six- month waiting period ends on July 20th. However, Sharon's planners apparently goofed and did not realize the significance of this date for religious Jews. So now D Day for evacuation may be delayed by several weeks. The latest snafu is one of several and not only indicates sloppy staff work; many critics say it shows the Prime Minister's inordinate haste in rushing through his disengagement plan. Confronted with fierce opposition inside his own Likud party, Sharon has concentrated on outflanking his opponents without paying enough attention to the nuts and bolts of the disengagement itself.

Quo Vadis - Ariel Sharon? At this stage, the Prime Minister's Palestinian Policy is still an enigma to the Israeli public. Israelis have to guess where the Prime Minister is headed. Sharon is a unilateralist leader if there ever was one; he decides on his own where he is going to take the country and 'to Hell with his own Likud party and the right wingers who voted him into office'. Case in point - his decision to carry out a unilateral withdrawal, some say retreat, from the Gaza Strip. How is Sharon able to govern in such an arbitrary fashion? Well, Israeli public opinion gives him a performance rating of over 60%, even though nobody has any idea what Sharon's ultimate strategy is. Hard-line right winger Sharon broke the more or less 50-50 split on the territorial compromise issue, by now garnering the left wing more or less lock, stock and barrel. There is no precedent for such a situation since the Six-Day War in 1967 when Israel acquired the territories. In the last election, Ariel Sharon scored a landslide victory over Labor's Amram Mitzna by declaring he would never negotiate with the Palestinians under fire, only to later adopt Mitzna's platform for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. That is tantamount to withdrawing under fire and to boot, Sharon even threw in 4 West Bank settlements. It is this amazing flip-flop which so baffles and enrages his right wing opponents and so pleases his new left wing supports.

'Born Again' Sharon - What has brought about this sea-change in the quintessential hardliner who, in another life, spread settlements all over the territories with the aim of making it well nigh impossible for Israel ever to withdraw? There are several theories: his legal problems over the Attorney General's inquiries into whether the Prime Minister and his two sons should be indicted over financial kickbacks or illegal campaign contributions. The theory is that by launching the startling revolutionary disengagement plan Sharon would gain left wing support and make it very tough to indict the Prime Minister. It is of course impossible to prove this kind of speculation.

'Sharon is Sharon' - The 'bulldozer' came to the realization that times have changed. He crossed the Rubicon by telling his astonished Likud MKs that Israel's 'occupation' had to end. Sharon views himself as the only Israeli leader who can carry out a withdrawal and cut a deal with the Palestinians to preserve vital parts of the Land of Israel in Judea and Samaria. Sharon persuaded Bush that Yasser Arafat was Israel's 'Osama Bin Laden' and certainly no peace partner. Step #2 was to go on the initiative, withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip, then hunker down and consolidate Israeli settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria.

Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen)

Sharon's Statecraft - However, Sharon's strategy appears to have been shaken by two developments: first, the death of Arafat and the election of Abu Mazen who says he wants to halt terrorism and negotiate with Israel. But if Sharon decided to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza because there was no Palestinian partner, shouldn't Arafat's departure and Abu Mazen's appearance have changed the picture. A viable Palestinian partner would mean negotiations, such as the Roadmap, so why didn't Sharon put the disengagement on hold rather than continuing and giving the Palestinians 'a free lunch'? Surely the Gaza withdrawal is no small Israeli bargaining chip that could have been parleyed into a firm Palestinian quid pro quo as well as U.S. and international backing. Granted Sharon did get the non-binding April letter of support from Bush but the Crawford summit showed it does mean U.S. acquiescence in Israeli settlement building. Secondly, a new factor in the equation is that the second Bush administration apparently is taking a more active role in trying to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian dispute.

Time is of the Essence - The Prime Minister, never one to take the conventional track, is sticking to his plan and will not be sidetracked. Sharon once referred to Abu Mazen as 'a plucked chicken' when he served as prime minister under Arafat. The Israeli intelligence assessments on Sharon's desk portray Abu Mazen as a weak leader who will not take on the terrorists. Therefore, everyone, the Americans, the Europeans, Arab leaders and Israel's left wing are simply going through the motions when they praise the new Palestinian leader to high heaven. There is still no sign that President Abu Mazen will or can 'deliver the goods' and if so, Sharon feels there is no reason to alter his original plan. On the contrary, by implementing the withdrawal, the new Palestinian President will have to also prove that he means business and he and not the terror organizations are in charge.

David Essing

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