A dangerous interim period

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 23-Nov-05 | Author: Ze'ev Schiff| Source: Ha'aretz

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (R) and international Mideast envoy James Wolfensohn attend a news conference in Jerusalem November 15, 2005.

The interim period that the Israeli political system has entered and the shock waves it is going through necessarily intensify sensitivity to security. The fact that the current government is left without the "balancing" ministers and the crash of the ruling party on the shoals require extra caution. Suddenly, the prime minister and defense minister find themselves in opposing, competing parties.

If not for the insistence last week by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to press Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement on the border crossings in Gaza, Egypt and Israel, it's doubtful that the sides would now do it on their own. Rice lengthened her stay in Israel after she understood that if an agreement was not signed immediately, the Quartet envoy, James Wolfensohn, would resign, and the entire matter would end up as a serious crisis. In other words, even a properly functioning government can find its decisions neutralized by mid-level functionaries, including on the matter of the passages. Now that danger is 10 times worse.

In political interim periods, the internal monitoring of the government's various arms and the ongoing supervision by the heads of those executive arms on the levels below them, is weakened. That category includes the security forces, like the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet. Under such circumstances, the importance of key people - Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin - only intensifies. Add to those two the Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. Most of the Mossad's efforts may be overseas, but the relationship and coordination between it and Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet are at a low point.

The treaty known as "the Magna Carta," which defined the division of labor between the three major security forces, has been totally undermined. This situation has worried Sharon, and he ordered the three security services to return to the status quo ante with regard to coordination between them, until new decisions are made. But in the wake of the political changes and the instability of the government, it is doubtful that will happen, and that makes the interim period even more dangerous.

One of the most sensitive nerve points in this context is military activity initiated by the IDF and Shin Bet against Palestinian terror organizations. Such activity may be focused on Islamic Jihad, but it also harms Hamas activists and sometimes activists from Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Operational activity that is not sufficiently monitored in such a period can easily deteriorate in ways that would badly influence the political and security situations in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Loss of control and extremism in operational activity could reignite a wide-scale military clash. The internal political debate in Israel would be diverted from its main course when judgment is influenced only by security incidents, and not by the overall picture. Clearly, such a development would also have a bad influence on the PA's situation.

In this security-political situation, Israel must cease its pinpoint targeting during this period. Those attacks were resumed after the suicide bombing in Hadera, where six Israelis were killed and dozens wounded. Since then, hundreds of suspects from all the Palestinian organizations have been arrested. That does not mean Israel should cease its defensive action. If the terrorists continue their activities, the guilty parties should be sought out and harmed - but, in principle, the focus now should be on defense and reducing to a minimum initiated operations against the terror organizations.

The PA administration and the Egyptian government understand that Palestinian terror is against the agreement for a tahadiyeh (lull) achieved with Hamas, but they expect more sensitive Israeli reactions.