Olmert Ties Israeli Military Hands against an Increasingly Porous Gaza-Israeli Border
DEBKAfile Exclusive Military Report
June 23, 2006, 3:12 PM (GMT+02:00)
Israeli Maj.-Gen (Res.) Yitzhak Ben-Israel, a member of the prime ministerâ€™s Kadima party, said in a state radio interview on June 22: â€œThis is not the finest hour of Israelâ€™s national security leadership.â€ Pressed to elaborate on who in particular he meant, the general mentioned prime minister Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz.
He reminded listeners that the IDF, its commanders and men, do not function in a vacuum. In Israel, after putting forward their recommendations and arguments, army chiefs must defer to the orders of elected government and bound to carry out the tasks assigned them. Therefore, since the government has instructed the IDF to confine itself to air force activity in the war against the Qassam missile â€“ and barred all other means of warfare, the military has no option but to obey.â€
The result is a simple equation, DEBKAfileâ€™s military experts say.
Heightened Palestinian missile attacks on Israeli civilian locations generate increased air force activity to stop them. The further the Qassam launchers retreat for shelter into populated areas, the greater the number of Palestinian civilians who stand to be hurt. Therefore, the effort to avoid civilian casualties on the Palestinian side is tantamount to bringing the IDFâ€™s counter-missile war to a full stop.
While the Israeli prime minister repeatedly vows â€œWe will never compromise in the fight against terror,â€ he and the defense minister are consciously tying the IDFâ€™s hands against pursuing this fight.
DEBKAfileâ€™s military sources reveal here the five different constraints they have clamped down on counter-terror operations:
1. Artillery fire by self-propelled guns and tanks against Qassam launch-sites and crews is still forbidden after a two week- halt. From January 1, the IDF fired some 8,000 shells against these targets in Gaza. Since the most exhaustive inquiry has demonstrated that the Palestinian family members killed on the Jebalya beach on June 9 were not the victims of an Israeli shell, Israeli commanders are stumped by this ban and point to its damaging fallout in four areas:
A. The IDF remains under a cloud and a question mark hangs over the credibility of its probe.
B. Official Israeli statements have become hesitant and inconsistent, usually shying away from backing IDF operations against Palestinian terror.
C. Anti-Israel interests are encouraged to denigrate Israelâ€™s military morality.
D. The suspension of artillery fire forces the IDF to double the number of aerial forays and correspondingly increases their chances of making a botch of targeted raids and harming Palestinian civilians. Those craft are also at greater risk of being hit.
2. The prime minister has restricted air strikes to Qassam-related targets. This order extends immunity to the various Palestinian command levels of the Qassam offensive and keeps the missile stores and manufacturing facilities safe from Israeli attack. Therefore, while protesting that there will be no half-measures in the war on terror, the taboos laid on the IDF by Olmert and Peretz guarantee that the entire Palestinian terror infrastructure remains intact and unscathed. This is exactly the same policy practiced by Ariel Sharon from 2003.
3. Special operations forcesâ€™ forays into the Gaza Strip for raids and ambushes against the missile teams are not allowed - even though the single raid carried out by naval commandos near Jebalya on May 30 was a resounding success. Five Jihad Islami operatives directly employed in shooting missiles into Israel were killed. The Israeli force had no losses.
4. Olmert turned the Israeli high command down on its request to lay night ambushes just inside the security fence enclosing the Gaza Strip in order to secure the border against the rising number of Palestinian infiltrations and bombs traps. This tactic was essential, the generals explained, because Palestinian terrorists were beating the border defenses the IDF had put in place before Israelâ€™s pullback from Gaza. A strip between 300 and 500 meters broad on the Gaza side of the border was cleared and plowed and Palestinian movements prohibited. That strip is under round-the-clock surveillance by Israeli spotters and electronic eyes and sensors. But, Olmert was told, Palestinian terrorists have learned how to elude this observation and are constantly creeping closer to the border for infiltration and attack. But the prime minister refused to heed the IDF warning that the only way to seal the increasingly permeable border against creeping terror was to conduct ambushes on the Palestinian side of the fence. Nothing doing, Olmert ruled.
5. This ban appears to be as counter-productive as the others. Air force warplanes are not allowed to carry out raids over the Gaza Strip, only drones and helicopters. Every attempt was made to explain that high-altitude warplanes are armed with advanced electronic instruments and radar, which are tailored for high-precision bombardments - unlike the low-flying hit-or-miss drones and helicopters, which are far more prone to strike civilians by mistake. This argument fell on deaf ears in Jerusalem. Olmert is convinced that the use of warplanes will damage Israelâ€™s international image more than the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths resulting from the use of flying craft which are not geared for surgical strikes.
The IDF high command is at its witsâ€™ end to cope with these five taboos while yet performing effectively against hostile forces tirelessly disrupting the lives of the people living in the western Negev.
Our military sources reveal that IDF statistical models updated to the third week of June point to the imminent probability of a steep rise in Israeli military and civilian casualties under the daily Qassam bombardment.
One Israel general consulted by DEBKAfile summed up the crisis in two sentences. â€œThe battle once fought over Netzarim (the former Israeli settlement in Gaza now a training facility for a number of Palestinian terrorist groups), has shifted to Sderot, on our side of the border. Unless this falling-back is stopped,â€ he warned, â€œwe will soon find ourselves fighting for Ashkelon and Netivot.â€