ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Defending the Fixed Barrier 2.6.04

Defending the Fixed Barrier

02 July 2004

By Yisrael Ne'eman

As pinpointed in EC’s article “Over and Under” (June 29), Israeli luck in battling certain Hamas-Fatah operations has finally run out. However the conclusions drawn condemning fixed barriers are overkill, especially when it comes to utilizing defensive positions effectively.

Let us begin where EC is correct. No doubt the Orchan outpost, on the edge of the Gazan city of Khan Yunis should have been moved further back. The geographic positioning of Orchan turned its defenders into sitting ducks just waiting to be pounded by the Palestinians, whether blown up from underground or fired on from above. Unfortunately, once the IDF builds a reinforced concrete bunker, they have a hard time moving it, unless forced to do so by government decision (witness south Lebanon, May 2000). Many, including the soldiers serving there (and EC himself), warned those who needed to know that the position was vulnerable. Here, the IDF is awarded an “F” for what is referred to in Hebrew as “Frozen Thinking”.

His discussion however, of the fall of Gamla, is out of context. The Gamla defenders were “terribly despondent”, “short of supplies” and many not only “feared being captured” but “were starving” as they suffered a loss of courage under the Roman siege (see Josephus – The Jewish War). The IDF is in no such situation, having gained the upper hand in Gaza and over Palestinian terrorism in general. One suspects that the army was also corned by right wing pressures, especially those of the settler movement, which sees any withdrawal, even if to save an exposed position, as a sign of capitulation. The Orchan catastrophe was idiocy, not despair.

There is little connection between the tunneling and detonation of a ton of explosives under Orchan, and the firing of Kassam or Nasser rockets at the town of Sderort. 330 shells had already been fired and it was only a matter of time before, unfortunately, there would be fatalities. Over the past 3.5 years Israel has uprooted thousands of trees in an effort to “expose” the rocket firing zones used by Palestinian terrorists against Israeli civilian targets. A major IDF operation has begun in the Beit Hanoun – Beit Lahia area to deny the terrorists those orchards used as cover for firing rockets on Sderot. So now Hamas-Fatah will fire from within Gaza’s neighborhoods as it appears they have done over the past weekend.

EC overstates the case by making comparisons with the Maginot Line, the D-Day landings and the Bar Lev Line. We are not talking of massive tank and aerial assaults involving tens of thousands of craft and hundreds of thousands of men. Rather the issue is how to deal with a Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) or guerilla war and the terror threat.

A high quality fence, with alert, non-routine, highly mobile patrols will prevent virtually all crossings. The IDF will need to use all the tools at its disposal - fences, high-tech sensors, aerial and ground reconnaissance and intelligence to prevent successful terrorist incursions. Being that no military thinkers can be heard demanding the removal of the fence to insure security, one can conclude that the fence is an essential component in defeating terrorism. Furthermore, terrorists have crossed neither the Gaza fence, nor the completed northern sector of the West Bank barrier. There is of course, no future guarantee such success will continue.

Depending on the fence and only defensive measures will lead to a catastrophe. In the Bush-Sharon agreement in April, the two concurred on Israel’s right to battle terrorism, which, if understood from Israel’s perspective, means the right to take offensive actions to crush the evil. Here EC cannot overstate his case for “relentless mobile operations against the terrorists in their population centers.” The terrorists must be running for their lives or hiding every minute of the day. Israel’s best troops must be involved in forays and incursions whenever deemed necessary, until a political/diplomatic solution is found (if ever). Although offensive measures are imperative in battling terrorism, one should not draw the conclusion that possessing defensive tools is a liability.

Like in any other profession, tools must be exploited by those who created them, and not the other way around. And in the long run, to win, one must be primarily dependent on flexible and creative thinking.