Analysis / The generals prefer coordination

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 10-Mar-04 | Author: Ze'ev Schiff| Source: Ha'aretz

If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had provided greater clarity about his disengagement plan in Gaza and Judea and Samaria, he might have avoided the many critical remarks he's hearing - and not only from the army and the defense establishment.

Ever since Sharon invited some of the defense establishment's top officials, including the defense minister, chief of staff and some generals, to a discussion of the plan's implementation a few weeks ago, there's been plenty of criticism. It's a mistake to think this is only an argument between Sharon and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon. There has been criticism from other generals in key roles. The dispute is heard inside the IDF as well, among generals, on various aspects of disengagement.

Now it is clear that the media and public will not focus on Sharon and Elhanan Tennenbaum and what the prime minister knew about Tennenbaum's family, but on Ya'alon, "who dared to tell off" the prime minister and the political echelon.

This is not the first time there has been a dispute between the generals and the prime minister or defense minister. Since the War of Independence, there have been many instances of this, and Sharon has often engaged in just such disputes.

The criticism and disputes have been over various issues. As defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer threatened to fire then chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, who objected to a government decision on an operational issue. Mofaz as chief of staff and Avi Dichter as Shin Bet chief opposed some military solutions for the Jerusalem area proposed by then premier Ehud Barak. As defense minister, Ezer Weizman wanted to fire chief of staff Mordechai Gur for comments Gur made pouring cold water on President Anwar Sadat's visit on the eve of the historic coming to Jerusalem.

Now, the dispute appears to stem from a belief among the general staff, including the chief of staff and key generals, that Israel should be striving for an agreement with the Palestinians requiring them to take responsibility in various areas, instead of undertaking a unilateral disengagement. They think a unilateral move practically guarantees the fighting will continue, and the Palestinians will regard a unilateral move as their victory, so they will go on wanting to fight.

Senior officers say that if the government wants the disengagement plan to work, there must be prior coordination with the Palestinians and others. But Sharon doesn't want that. Some are even prepared for "soft" international involvement, which Sharon certainly cannot accept.

With a unilateral move such as the one Sharon is proposing, Israel is undertaking a dangerous precedent. It is in effect giving up the demilitarization of the future Palestinian state. Such demilitarization can only be achieved in agreements. "This is a strategic failure in the making," say some IDF leaders.

Meanwhile, most top IDF officers are opposed to any fence in the eastern West Bank, for the Jordan Valley, while Sharon has been firmly in favor of it, only recently begining to show signs of changing his mind.

There is also criticism of the way Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan basically throws out much of what the army regards as the achievements of Operation Defensive Shield. A disengagement without any agreement will turn into withdrawal under fire and certain continued conflict.