Home > Diplomacy, IDF, Impunity > Yediot’s defense analyst: Israel gave the PA a “figurative finger” with Nablus killings

Yediot’s defense analyst: Israel gave the PA a “figurative finger” with Nablus killings

On Saturday (December 26 2009) the IDF killed three Fatah operatives in Nablus in response the killing of a settler in the northern West Bank on Thursday. Yediot’s defense analyst, Alex Fishman, reckons that the action risks fundamentally destabilizing the PA and should have (meaning it wasn’t) been approved by the political echelon (full text after the cut).

While it is true that the operation in Nablus does not violate any agreement between Israel and the PA, and the IDF is entitled to decide to send large numbers of troops into the city to go in pursuit of suspects, in these sensitive political times and against the backdrop of the persistent security and the ongoing and sincere efforts by the Palestinian Authority to deal with the terror organizations—perhaps an operation on this scale ought to have been approved first by the political echelon in Israel.

There are quite a few security officials who now lament the fact that Israel destroyed Fatah and all of its institutions during the second Intifada. The dosage, they say, was excessive. Fatah hasn’t been able to recover, and the Palestinian Authority, which relies on it, headed by Abu Mazen, has been trying for the past five years to gain momentum, without much success. On the way, it also lost one of its wings in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority was not negligent in its investigation. Dozens of people were arrested, including people who fled the IDF’s manhunt in Nablus. The law and public order that has been maintained in Nablus is considered to be one of the most salient achievements of the Palestinian security forces and the Israeli security policy. Israel has an agreement with the PA: Israel will refrain from taking dramatic action in Nablus and other cities, except under irregular circumstances. The PA has asked to be given more and more security responsibilities in Area A. This weekend Israel gave them the figurative finger. The operation in Nablus overtly undermines the standing of the Palestinian Authority. Is that in Israel’s interest?

Note that Btselem has called for an investigation into charges that the IDF force had no intention of arresting the operatives and executed them unarmed.

Another settler, a 16 year old girl, was moderately injured by a firebomb in the southern West Bank this evening (December 27 2009.) Haaretz reports that Netanyahu has vowed that the IDF will continue to “aggressively” defend Israeli citizens, despite the “US rap” for Saturday’s killings.

Walking a fine line

Alex Fishman, Yediot, December 27 [page 6]

The people who decided on the way the operation was going to be carried out walked a very fine line. From the Israeli point of view of combating terrorism, the operation was fully justified. The operation dealt immediately, decisively and resoundingly with terrorists. But the killing of the three wanted men in Nablus might prove to be that final, last nail that knocks the horseshoe out, causes the horse and rider to fall, the battle to be lost and the city to be sacked.

The operational achievement is clear: within a very short amount of time after the murder of Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai, the murderers, or the people who were involved in the murder, were located and became the subjects of an operational plan that culminated in their deaths. This operation—regardless of whether it was planned as a “targeted killing operation” or not—ended on a powerful note that sent a clear message to a number of target audiences.

That message, first and foremost, was for the Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria. There has been a sense of conflict between the government and the law enforcement agencies, on the one hand, and the general settler public, on the other, ever since the construction freeze was announced, and neither has this been restricted only to the extreme fringes. The defense minister and the top IDF brass have been cast as hostile people who have abandoned them to their fate. One had only to listen to the speeches at Rabbi Hai’s funeral to get a sense as to which way the wind was blowing. The people responsible for the murder, they said, were not the Palestinians, but the people who removed the roadblocks. Add to that the way in which instances of insubordination were dealt with as well as the Har Bracha Yeshiva—and you’ve got yourself a Jewish sector [in the West Bank] on the verge of explosion. The assassination operation in Nablus was geared to pour cold water on the people inflaming passions and to send a clear message: we are with you; we won’t forsake you; we’re here to defend you; terrorists will be dealt with swiftly and firmly. We aren’t on different sides.

The State of Israel cannot absolve itself of its security responsibility on the ground, and it needs to demonstrate that responsibility. Security officials did not regard the murder of Rabbi Hai as a strategic terror attack. Even if a Palestinian suicide bomber makes his way out of the West Bank tomorrow—and there are intelligence warnings about such a development—that would not indicate that there has been any drop in either the IDF and GSS’s security capacities or in the PA’s desire to deal with opposition forces. Yet Israel nevertheless opted to send the Palestinian Authority a thundering message as well: while it is true that you began a comprehensive investigation into the murder and made dozens of arrests, you weren’t efficient enough, decisive enough, and we aren’t going to wait for you. If you don’t tighten your supervision, we’re going to take matters into our own hands.

One of the terrorists had been granted amnesty within the framework of the “wanted men agreement,” an agreement the GSS is very proud of. That agreement allowed 400 wanted men from El-Aksa Martyrs Brigades to lay down their guns, to undertake not to revert to terrorist activity, and to come out of hiding under the Palestinian Authority’s supervision. That agreement was one of the principal factors contributing to the state of relative quiet that currently reigns in Judea and Samaria. Any terrorist who violates that agreement and reverts to engaging in terrorism is going to pay. And that is what happened. Last spring there was another such terrorist who violated the agreement, and paid with his life. The operation sent a clear message to the other formerly wanted men: we are serious.

Another one of the terrorists was released from an Israeli prison last January after having served a seven-year term. Against the backdrop of the fears about the consequences of the Shalit deal, the death of a recidivist terrorist who was released from prison sends a message to anyone who might be released in the framework of a deal: you’re being watched, no matter where you go.

There have been increasing numbers of people within Fatah who have called on the movement to take the militant route ever since the Fatah Central Conference that was held earlier this year. The operation yesterday also sends a clear message to those extremists who are trying to undermine Abu Mazen and who long for the days of the armed struggle.

But justice needs to be meted out intelligently and prudently. While it is true that the operation in Nablus does not violate any agreement between Israel and the PA, and the IDF is entitled to decide to send large numbers of troops into the city to go in pursuit of suspects, in these sensitive political times and against the backdrop of the persistent security and the ongoing and sincere efforts by the Palestinian Authority to deal with the terror organizations—perhaps an operation on this scale ought to have been approved first by the political echelon in Israel.

There are quite a few security officials who now lament the fact that Israel destroyed Fatah and all of its institutions during the second Intifada. The dosage, they say, was excessive. Fatah hasn’t been able to recover, and the Palestinian Authority, which relies on it, headed by Abu Mazen, has been trying for the past five years to gain momentum, without much success. On the way, it also lost one of its wings in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority was not negligent in its investigation. Dozens of people were arrested, including people who fled the IDF’s manhunt in Nablus. The law and public order that has been maintained in Nablus is considered to be one of the most salient achievements of the Palestinian security forces and the Israeli security policy. Israel has an agreement with the PA: Israel will refrain from taking dramatic action in Nablus and other cities, except under irregular circumstances. The PA has asked to be given more and more security responsibilities in Area A. This weekend Israel gave them the figurative finger. The operation in Nablus overtly undermines the standing of the Palestinian Authority. Is that in Israel’s interest?

The US administration decided to spare no effort in helping Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad gain control over the turn of events on the ground. Just recently the administration approved increasing the allocations to the Palestinian Authority by USD 500 million (!), mainly for security purposes. The Egyptians, by means of Omar Suleiman who was here last week, have asked that the PA be given a list of things, including the release of hundreds of prisoners, in order to boost support for Abu Mazen.

Mass demonstrations were held yesterday in Nablus during the funerals. The demonstrations were directed less against Israel than they were against the Palestinian Authority. In the morning the Palestinian President’s Office issued a statement condemning Israel and accusing it of sabotaging peace efforts. By the evening, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tried to cool people’s tempers, lest things get out of hand. The IDF stepped up security in northern Samaria for good reasons. The Palestinian Authority is on uneven footing. The operation this weekend might be the first domino to fall. Abu Mazen is flying on his last drops of fuel in any event.

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Categories: Diplomacy, IDF, Impunity
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