Terrorism Can Wait

After finally taking the offensive in the war against Palestinian terrorism, we seem to be moving in the wrong direction.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on July 19, 2005.)

If corruption can wait, terrorism can also wait. That is the opinion of those who believe that unilateral withdrawal and uprooting the Jewish residents from Gush Katif and northern Samaria – euphemistically referred to as disengagement, or getting out of Gaza, or making sure Israel will be a democratic Jewish State (take your choice) – is the be-all and end-all of a grand strategy and micro-tactics all rolled into one for Israel at the present time.

For weeks, the residents of Gush Katif and the settlements south of Ashkelon, Sderot and the western Negev have been subjected to a daily shower of mortar shells and Qassam rockets. Nothing has been done to put an end to this outrage. People have been killed and injured, property has been damaged, and the government’s policy seems to be a repetition of the nonresponse to acts of terror that a few years ago was promoted under the slogan of “restraint is strength.”

Nothing must be allowed to interfere with the idee fixe of the disengagement project. This evidently is the price that Israelis living in the areas under attack must pay for the ultimate benefits of unilateral withdrawal for the rest of Israel.

But unilateral is a euphemism as well. There are other actors in this drama – or, better said, tragedy. Hamas and Islamic Jihad and their bosses in Syria and Iran. As should have been obvious from the start, they are out to prove that the withdrawal is the direct result of their terrorist offensive against Israel. And that the message sinks in to one and all – terrorism works. Not only should it be clear that Israel is giving in to the terrorists, but, so that the bombastic statements by Israeli spokesmen not create any misapprehensions, Israel should be seen retreating under a rain of mortar shells and Qassam rockets. It may be painful to admit, but they seem to be getting their point across so far and outsmarting the Israeli government.

The government spokesmen are being caught in the trap of their own rhetoric. The prime minister announces he has already said “a thousand times” that the pullout will begin on August 15, and nothing will change that. So the terrorists need have no fear that their shelling will cancel the withdrawal. What’s more, some Israeli “useful idiots” have declared that we will not let the terrorists keep us from doing something that is so important for Israel. So, it is a win-win situation for the terrorists; no matter what happens, they come out on top. When Israel provides these kind of incentives for the terrorists, what can you expect?

The chief of staff is not found wanting. There will be no withdrawal under fire, he says, because there will be no fire during the withdrawal. In other words, the Israel Defense Forces will see to it that terror from the Gaza Strip ceases during the withdrawal. Presumably, that means disengagement is going to be a one-step-backward, five-steps-forward tango in Gaza. While the residents of Gush Katif and the neighbors of Ashkelon are being torn out of their homes, the IDF will take over the Gaza Strip. “Getting out of Gaza” will actually mean the IDF getting immersed in Gaza deeper than we have been for many years.

Just what did the people who thought up this plan have in mind? That the Palestinians would be so thankful for the Israeli withdrawal that terrorism would cease? That Mahmoud Abbas and his police force would make short shrift of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists? That Mubarak would bring order to the Gaza Strip? Is it possible that they miscalculated and that it was all one big mistake?

And after the withdrawal? Things should become clearer as that date approaches, even to those who refused to look reality in the face. The Gaza Strip will be a hotbed of terrorism. Ashkelon will come into the range of Qassam rockets. The outlandish idea that the Egyptian army will be allowed to deploy along the Israeli-Egyptian border, nullifying one of the essential elements of the peace treaty with Egypt, together with the withdrawal from Gush Katif, will put an end to Israeli control over the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip from Egypt. An out-of-control terrorist enclave will pose a daily threat to Israel.

Israel’s original position, that dismantling the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure precede any steps toward an accommodation with the Palestinians, was logical, and it enjoyed the support of Washington. The government made a mistake when it abandoned that position and let up on Israel’s war on Palestinian terror just when we were close to inflicting on them a decisive defeat. The recent relaxation of the IDF’s control in Palestinian cities in Samaria may have been responsible for the latest suicide bombing in Netanya. After finally taking the offensive in the war against Palestinian terrorism, we seem to be moving in the wrong direction.

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