Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Trouble with Israeli-Palestinian "Benchmarks"/ More Winograd Security Implication

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Update from AIJAC

May 9, 2007
Number 05/07 #04

This Update opens with a good piece analysing the latest US-led effort to push Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation forward, a series of benchmarks for both sides intended to have Palestinians simultaneously implementing security measures as Israel lifts some restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement. Unfortunately, Hamas has already rejected the plan, and both Israel and Fatah have reservations.

Joshua Brilliant of UPI points out that Israel is worried about the security effects of plans to allow movement between the violent Gaza Strip with the quieter West Bank, as well as the removal of checkpoints. Meanwhile, he also points out that in addition to Hamas rejecting it, even if they supported it, it is far from clear anyone can control chaotic Gaza enough to make the security provisions work any time soon. For this full discussion, CLICK HERE.

Next up, retired Israeli General Yaakov Amidror looks specifically at the security implications for Israel of the Winograd report in to last year's conflict in Lebanon. He makes a number of points about deterrence and containment which apply to Hamas in Gaza as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon. For his full strategic analysis, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times has an interesting reaction to the Winograd report - he asks what an Arab commission of inquiry might say about Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah's decision-making before he launched the war. His answer makes it clear that, despite the hype surrounding the Winograd findings, Hezbollah certainly did not win that conflict, and in fact left Israel stronger today than when the war started. For this valuable alternative way of looking at the war and its aftermath, CLICK HERE.


Analysis: U.S. struggles with Mideast plan  

UPI,  May 7, 2007

By JOSHUA BRILLIANT

TEL AVIV, Israel, May 7 (UPI) -- The United States has presented Israel and the Palestinians with a new plan for enhanced security, movement and access -- but if initial reactions are any indication, its fate might be no better than previous, never-implemented plans.

The plan was drawn up by U.S. Security Coordinator Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton and discussed in weekly meetings with the parties. It was presented a fortnight ago, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to push it on her next visit to the area.

Its text, leaked to the Haaretz newspaper and confirmed by a knowledgeable Western source, has two essential elements, one of which is to improve Palestinian movement and access. It talks of easing Israeli restrictions on movement in the West Bank, especially in the Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus and Jordan Valley areas.

No later than July 1 there should be five bus convoys a week linking the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. No later than May 15 the main cargo terminal between Israel and the Gaza Strip should contain special lanes for fresh produce with expedited procedures, a move clearly designed to prevent them from rotting. No later than June 1 the Rafah Crossing from Gaza to Egypt should be open to "normalized" passenger operations and initial commercial exports.

The second major element concerns security. Palestinian security forces should actively enforce law and order and fight terrorism, the plan says. No later than June 15 they should deploy near Gaza's border with Egypt, conduct counter-smuggling operations and begin to destroy tunnel networks that have been used for smuggling.

By June 21 the Palestinian president should deploy forces to stop Qassam rocket attacks into Israel.

Dayton asked that Israel immediately, and routinely, approve and support his requests to provide armaments, ammunition and equipment to the "security forces under the control and reporting to the (Palestinian Authority) President." That means Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. The Islamic Hamas has established a rival force.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's media adviser, Miri Eisin, told United Press International, "The proposals are being reviewed." Olmert will consult this week in order to decide Israel's position.

However, she added, "There are certain aspects that Israel won't be able to address at present because of security concerns."

A senior defense official indicated the defense establishment did not want to open a corridor between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. "There is a mess and chaos in Gaza. Why bring it to the West Bank?" he asked.

The Gazans are more prone to violence, the situation in the West Bank is already "problematic ... delicate," and if Gazans reach the West Bank "within a week there will be terrorist attacks here."

The source insisted Israel maintain its roadblocks in the West Bank. "Most of the people don't understand their value," he said. Militants caught at checkpoints are interrogated and the intelligence they proved is used to get to the people who plan attacks and are inside Nablus, for example, he said.

"The Americans are quite naive," the official continued. Dayton "thinks this is the Mexican border. It is something totally different."

President Abbas told Fatah leaders in Gaza that the document contains important elements and many significant steps to restore security and start ending the Palestinian people's suffering, the Wafa news agency reported.

However, the U.S. policy of distinguishing between the president who seeks a compromise with Israel and the Hamas element in the government that is considered terrorist impedes Palestinian cooperation.

Cabinet Secretary Ghazi Hamad, of Hamas, told UPI the government couldn't comment on the document because it has not seen it.

Whether the president's office passed it on or not, whether the ministers saw the Haaretz copy or not, is not the issue. Hamad seemed to be making the point that the government should be addressed as well.

"All the time they are talking about the Presidential Guard. They never mentioned the government," he told UPI.

"The government is responsible for internal security," he stressed.

Hamad and Information Minister Mustafa al-Barghouti suspected the plan sought to drive a wedge between the forces loyal to the president and those that answer to the government, whose prime minister is of Hamas.

Hamas' spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, minced no words about the Dayton plan.

"The American plan is rejected and we will work to make it fail by any means," he declared according to the State Information Service.

Even if Hamas were to cooperate, it would be a long time before the authorities could end the chaotic security situation where clans and factions seem armed to the teeth.

Two of the latest incidents show how bad the situation is.

Monday morning gunmen from one of Gaza's clans broke into the al-Aqsa University's campus chasing two young men, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported.

"The gunmen opened fire inside the campus ... captured one of the young men ... and attacked him with sharp tools. He was injured in the face, the neck and the hands. When the guards of the campus attempted to stop the gunmen, those gunmen kidnapped one of the guards."

Sunday another group attacked a festival that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency organized in Rafah.

"Members of the Group shot machine guns and threw grenades toward participants in the festival under the pretext of the groups' mixing of men and women," the Palestine Times reported.

"Members of the group raised placards calling for boycotting the festival and shouted slogans through loudspeakers claiming that Islam prohibited such things," the newspaper said. In the attack a 45-year-old guard was killed and seven others, including three children, were wounded, PCHR reported.

BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was abducted on March 12, is still missing. A Western official who spoke on condition he not be identified said the U.S. document was "an informal draft and a flexible set of targets intended to help move the (peace) process forward.

"Neither side has been asked to approve or accept" it, he added.

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Strategic Lessons of the Winograd Commission Report

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror

Jerusalem Issue Briefs, Vol. 6, No. 29 
7 May 2007

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
  • In general terms, the Winograd Commission Report dealt mostly with the flaws in the decision-making process in Israel. However, the report contains important insights into the strategic thinking that was predominant in the Israeli political-military leadership from the time of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon until the outbreak of hostilities in July 2006, with the advent of the Second Lebanon War:
  • Israel completed its unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon on May 24, 2000. It was hoped that the withdrawal would erode the legitimacy of any continuing military activity by Hizbullah, especially in Lebanon's internal politics. At that time the Israeli government declared that any violation of Israeli sovereignty would bring about a harsh and immediate Israeli response.
  • These declarations stipulated that in the event of any assault on Israeli soldiers or civilians, all of Lebanon, Syria, and Hizbullah would be affected. The purpose of these statements was to build up Israeli deterrence in the aftermath of the withdrawal. Effective deterrence of this sort was critical for Israel, the Winograd Commission Report explains, for a number of reasons: after the Israeli pullout from Lebanon there was a lack of "elementary depth," there were many points of friction with Hizbullah, and finally there were multiple Israeli targets - both civilian and military - adjacent to the new Israeli-Lebanese boarder. At the same time, within the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) the view developed that if need be, Israel could use "levers of influence" to restrain Hizbullah, such as attacks on Lebanese infrastructure and Syrian targets, as well.
  • Despite these strong declarations, Israel only responded locally to the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers in October 2000. The Winograd Commission Report presents the assessment of Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh that the Israeli government at the time did not respond more forcefully because it did not want to show that its Lebanon withdrawal had actually produced an escalatory effect. Moreover, the Second Intifada had erupted and the Israeli government was concerned about having to wage a two-front war. This policy of restraint continued through March 2002, when Hizbullah attacked inside Israel near the town of Shlomi.
  • As a result, another view became deeply rooted in the Israeli national security establishment that Hizbullah's military buildup after Israel's Lebanon pullout was not so terrible as long as relative quiet along the border was preserved. Israel knew that Hizbullah was gaining strength and acquiring weaponry, but it preferred to turn a blind eye. As a result, Israel did not prepare for war with an enemy that was far more powerful than what it was familiar with in the past.

Implications for the Gaza Strip

  • In the Gaza Strip, a similar process is underway. Hamas is getting stronger as it organizes itself, digs fortifications underground, and builds up its military capabilities. Israel will have to ask itself whether it is preferable to delay the confrontation with Hamas, because meanwhile there is quiet or a temporary truce or some other illusory understanding. We are likely to find ourselves in exactly the same position in Gaza that we created with respect to Lebanon.
  • The Winograd Commission Report, which does not deal with the Gaza problem, describes Israeli policy toward Lebanon during 2000-2006 as a policy of "containment." Strictly speaking there is a problem with this terminology for what Israel pursued in Lebanon during this period, was not a pure policy of containment, which by definition implies preventing an adversary from reinforcing its capabilities.
  • What Israel is doing today in the Gaza Strip is not containment either, but rather a case of ignoring reality completely. It is an extremely costly policy. Few have any idea what price Israel will have to pay if it moves into Gaza in two or three years, when Hamas feels strengthened and has the capability to launch 122mm Katyusha rockets -which Hizbullah possessed in the thousands - as far as Ashdod and Kiryat Gat. Israeli decision-makers will have to take into account that inaction has a price, as well.
  • Anyone who has dealt with military affairs knows that it is impossible to thwart the firing of Katyusha or Qassam rockets by means of artillery fire, or by means of any land-based or air-based firepower. The Winograd Commission Report details, nonetheless, how many of Israel's operational plans for Lebanon during 2002-2004 did not require the use of maneuver units on the ground.
  • It is now clear that the only way to thwart rocket attacks is by controlling the situation on the ground. Qassam rockets are today landing in Sderot and Ashkelon - and not in Kfar Saba - because Israel does not control the situation on the ground in Gaza, whereas it has control of the ground around Qalqilya.
  • For political reasons, the IDF was not permitted by the political echelon to cross the Israeli-Lebanese border from 2000 to 2006. This allowed Hizbullah to conduct exercises day and night and to attack at will, while Israel was unable to stop any of its preparations. The only way to deal with such a situation in the long term is to allow the IDF to cross the border and halt such offensive preparations. As long as no responsible government is preventing attacks against Israeli territory, the IDF will have to adopt such an approach both with respect to its northern border with Lebanon and its southern border with the Gaza Strip. 
Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, program director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is former commander of the IDF's National Defense College and the IDF Staff and Command College. He is also former head of the IDF's Research and Assessment Division, with special responsibility for preparing the National Intelligence Assessment. In addition, he served as the military secretary of the defense minister.

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The Arab Commission 

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

New York Times, Published: May 9, 2007

Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, made a remarkable statement last week. He praised Israel for conducting an inquiry into last year’s war with Hezbollah — an inquiry that accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of “serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence.”

Mr. Nasrallah was quoted by the BBC as saying Israelis “study their defeat in order to learn from it,” in contrast with the Arab regimes that “do not probe, do not ask, do not form inquiry commissions ... as if nothing has happened.”

One has to be impressed by his honesty, but he did not take it all the way, since the Arab leader who most needs to be probed is Mr. Nasrallah himself. He started the war with Israel, which was a disaster for both sides. If there were an honest Arab League Inquiry Commission into the war, here is what it would say about him:

On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah fighters directed by Mr. Nasrallah abducted two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in an unprovoked attack across the Lebanon-Israel border, on the pretext of seeking a prisoner exchange. This triggered a war that killed about 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis. After interviewing all relevant parties, the Arab League Commission finds Mr. Nasrallah guilty of a serious failure of judgment, responsibility and prudence — for the following reasons.

1. Mr. Nasrallah demonstrated a total failure to anticipate Israel’s response to his raid. He assumed Israel would carry out the same limited retaliation it had with previous raids. Wrong. He failed to take into account the changed circumstances in Israel. The kidnapping of an Israeli soldier in Gaza a few weeks earlier, plus the fact that a new chief of staff of the Israeli Army, a new prime minister and a new defense minister had just taken office and all felt they were being tested, triggered an enormous Israeli response. Some 1,200 Lebanese died because of this gross error in judgment.

2. In unilaterally launching a war against Israel, without a vote of the Lebanese cabinet — of which Hezbollah is a member — the militia did grievous harm to Lebanon’s fragile democracy and democratization in the Arab world. All the fears that if you let an Islamist party into government it will not respect the rules of the game were fulfilled by Hezbollah.

3. Iran and Syria gave Hezbollah its rockets for their own deterrence. Hezbollah was their long arm to pressure Israel into political compromises and to threaten Israel if it attacked Iran or Syria. By launching all these rockets prematurely, without strategic purpose, Hezbollah has diminished its capability and Syria’s and Iran’s. The commission can’t find a single strategic gain from Mr. Nasrallah’s actions.

4. When the war started, Hezbollah’s fighters were sitting right on the border with Israel, operating freely. This was a real threat to Israel. As a result of the war, Hezbollah was pushed off the border by Israel and, in its place, the U.N. inserted a new peacekeeping force of some 10,000 troops, including a big European contingent, led by France and Italy. Yes, Hezbollah still has fighters in the area, but it has lost its military infrastructure, and can’t attack Israel now without getting embroiled with France and Italy — a huge strategic loss for Hezbollah.

5. Israel had allowed its ground forces to be degraded in order to invest more money in its air force’s ability to deter Iran and into policing the West Bank. Hezbollah’s attack exposed just how degraded Israel’s army had become. As a result, Israel has embarked on a broad upgrade of its military. In any future war Arab armies will meet a much better trained and equipped Israeli force.

6. Hezbollah claims that its Shiite militia, in attacking Israel, was serving the security needs of Lebanon. But Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s attack has resulted in billions of dollars of damage to Lebanese homes, factories and roads, with Shiite areas the worst hit and with zero security benefit to Lebanon.

Lebanon has had to rely on Arab and Iranian charity to rebuild. Israel, by contrast, suffered relatively minor damage and, after the war, its economy enjoyed one of its greatest growth spurts ever, as foreigners invested a record amount in Israel’s high-tech industry.

In sum, Mr. Nasrallah may have won popularity for himself and Hezbollah by fighting Israel. But so what? Today, less than a year after a war that Hezbollah called a “divine” victory, Lebanon is weaker and Israel is stronger. That’s what matters. And that is why, if the Hezbollah leader had any honor, he would resign.

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