Deputy-Premier Peres: 'Israel Found Strength To Rectify Historic Mistake Of Remaining In Gaza'
The Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip has been completed without hitch. Last month, the settlements were evacuated and now the Israel Defense Forces have pulled out. The Palestinians are now in control. What are the prospects? How did Israel take control of the Gaza Strip thirty-eight years ago? The fact is that Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin planned on bypassing the Strip that was populated by Palestinian refugees, in order to smash the Egyptian tank formations that were threatening Israel from Sinai. It was only after two divisions of Egyptian and Palestinian forces stationed in Gaza started shelling villages in Israel that the IDF was ordered to enter Gaza.
September 12th 2005 - Israelis and Palestinians have awakened to a new reality. At dawn, the last Israeli troops moved out of the Gaza Strip and sealed the entrance to the territory occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War in 1967. The withdrawal was completed without hitch within hours after the Israeli cabinet bowed to the rabbis who ruled it would be sacrilegious to demolish the synagogues left behind. After the IDF pullout, Palestinian security forces were to have secured the area for three days. However, within minutes throngs of Palestinians swarmed into the former Gush Katif settlement region formerly occupied by Israel and began torching synagogues and looting. In some cases, Palestinian policemen joined in. However, Palestinian security personnel did prevent the rioters from approaching the Israeli security fence on the border. Palestinian terrorists fired a Qassam rocket at the Israeli town of Sderot; it landed harmlessly in a field.
The last IDF soldier to leave the Gaza Strip was Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the commander of Operation Last Watch. In his parting message, General Kochavi said the Palestinian Authority now bears full responsibility for what transpires in and from the Gaza Strip.Deputy Premier Shimon Peres called Israel's thirty-eight year presence in Gaza an 'historic mistake'. Peres, who now runs civilian contacts on Gaza, was pleased that Israel had found the strength to end it.Israel had no intention of turning the Gaza Strip into a prison or a soup kitchen; the goal was for Palestinians to live honorably and Israelis with security. He went on to say that in 1956, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion never wanted to enter the Gaza Strip. The IDF conquered it because of the murderous 'fedayoun' terror attacks into Israel. During the Six-Day War of 1967, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was also leery about sending the IDF into the Gaza Strip but did so when Egyptian and Palestinian forces deployed there started shelling kibbutzim inside Israel. Shimon Peres spoke of Israel's need to adopt a policy both of strength and wisdom. Although calling it the 'happiest day for Palestinians in the last one-hundred years', Chairman Mahmoud Abbas also said that Israel had turned the Gaza Strip into a giant jail because it controlled its land, air and sea approaches.
The Day After: Mahmoud Abbas and his security forces, numbering 68,000 men are responsible for law and order in Gaza. Abbas passed the test of preventing terrorists from attacking during the Israeli eviction of the settlers last month and the subsequent evacuation of the IDF.
Can or will Abbas succeed now? Israeli intelligence sources foresee the Gaza Strip remaining quiet with terror operations switching to the West Bank. But on the other hand, the Gaza Strip may become a staging area for terrorist explosives and weapons and a safe haven for terrorist leaders. The terrorists have been using the current lull in the violence to regroup and rearm; it may be only a question of time before they decide to pull the trigger. Two hundred of the 750 Egyptian Border Guards have now replaced IDF forces that manned the Philadelfi Corridor that separated Egyptian controlled Sinai from the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians tunneled under the corridor to smuggle arms and explosives into the Gaza Strip and from there to the West Bank. Israel has taken another calculated risk in letting the Egyptian Army take responsibility for blocking this arms conduit. Israeli security believed the Egyptians previously turned a blind eye to the Palestinian smuggling from their territory. The Egyptians contended that their policemen were not up to the job of stopping the Palestinian arms smuggling and only full-fledged soldiers could block it.
The Israeli-Egyptian Peace treaty has demilitarized Sinai but now the deploying of Border Guards, an Egyptian Army unit, has eroded the demilitarization clause. However, the new deal stipulates the exact number and types of arms and equipment for the 750 Egyptian soldiers and it can be altered only with Israel's agreement. Will Cairo now comply with their commitment to halt the smuggling or will the Egyptian-Palestinian frontier now be more open than ever? If there is evidence of an arms flow from Sinai into the Gaza Strip, Cairo will have to answer to the U.S. and the international community. Israeli officials also say that recent terror attacks against Egyptian tourist sites at Taba, Sharm el Sheik and in Cairo itself have jolted the Egyptians into realizing they are not immune from terrorism.
Genesis of Gaza Strip: Egypt has played a key role in the Gaza experience. The Egyptian Army was the vanguard of the massed Arab forces from Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world that threatened to exterminate the new born Jewish state in 1948. Egyptian tanks and troops drove up from the Gaza Strip headed for Tel Aviv and were stopped by a heroic Israeli defensive operation. Again in 1956, when the massive Egyptian arms build-up again posed a threat to Israel's existence, the IDF swooped through the Gaza Strip to smash the gathering Egyptian forces in Sinai. And once again, the IDF withdrew. On to 1967, when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser mobilizes his army in Sinai, illegally blocks shipping through the straits of Tiran and expels the U.N. peace monitors. Nasser closes the noose around Israel's neck while the U.N. and the rest of the world watches and does nothing other than warn Israel not to act on her own. In light of the crisis, Moshe Dayan was swiftly appointed Defense Minister. In his memoir 'Story Of My Life' Dayan described the situation:
'On Sunday evening, the 14th of May 1967, during a torchlight tattoo in the Jerusalem stadium to mark the opening of Israel's nineteenth Independence Day celebrations, intelligence reports were received that the Egyptians were moving huge forces across the Suez Canal into Sinai. Three days later, Nasser demanded the ousting of the U.N. Emergency Force (UNEF), which had been stationed along the Sinai and Gaza Strip border following the 1956 Sinai Campaign. The U.N. secretary-general agreed to its removal. Within another few days, some 80,000 Egyptian troops and 800 tanks were in Sinai, with advanced formations approaching Israel's border, swelling the forces already stationed there.
On May 22, Nasser declared the blockade of the Straits of Tiran to all ships bound to or from Israel. When Israel had withdrawn her troops from Sharm el-Sheikh after the Sinai Campaign, she had clearly stated that re-imposition of the blockade by Egypt would be an act of war. Not only the United States and other maritime powers, but Egypt too, fully understood that this was our position. On May 26, Nasser announced that Egypt intended to destroy Israel. Four days later, King Hussein placed Jordan's armed forces under Egyptian command. So did Iraq. Expeditionary units arrived from Kuwait and Algeria to add to the Egyptian strength in Sinai. By the opening days of June, Israel was threatened on all fronts by Arab armies vastly outnumbering us in troops, tanks, artillery, and warplanes. To the world Israel seemed doomed.'
Footnote: The U.S. State department has criticized Israel for not demolishing the synagogues in the Gaza Strip, in light of the fact that the Palestinians would. The insinuation is that Israel was trying to make political capital out of the Palestinians desecrating Jewish holy sites. The truth is the State Department is barking up the wrong tree this time. Several weeks, the government favored razing the synagogues, but after the massive intervention of rabbis both in Israel and around the world, the cabinet reversed its position. The moral-Israeli politicians are more fearful of Jewish rabbis than they are of American diplomats.