Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of January 24, 1997



The Palestine Army Is Already Here

By Bernard Smith

If Israel's security is to depend largely on the demilitarization of a Palestinian state, Israelis should be worried. Historically, demilitarization has not been successful: the territory is eventually remilitarized. The Palestinian Authority leadership will not willingly accept the humiliating and inhibiting servitude implied by demilitarization. Yasser Arafat will accede only for the sake of appearances, until such time as he can subvert the final agreement - which is precisely what he did with the restrictions placed on his security forces by the Oslo accords.

The accords closed the door on full demilitarization, allowing an excessive number of weapons and police, and the introduction of 12,000 battle-trained Palestinian Liberation Army soldiers and PNLA quasi-regulars. This was insufficient for Arafat, who egregiously violated the partial demilitarization of the 1995 interim agreement by exceeding the number of "police" and weapons allowed, and obtaining antitank and anti-aircraft missiles, Katyusha rockets and hand grenades.

Israeli newspaper columnists, government officials and IDF officers refer to the PA police as "the Palestinian army," "soldiers," "an armed military force," to the PA's "military intelligence chief." The prime minister's communications director: "../... they have an army. [The PA does not] even bother calling the army a police any more, they call it an army." A.M. Rosenthal of the New York Times: "The Palestinians already have an army."

PA leaders flaunt their lack of concern for Israel's reaction to their violations. Nabil Shaath talks of 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers; Arafat of a 30,000-man armed force. Soon, the only ones left believing in Palestinian "police" and demilitarized autonomous areas will be those Israelis who, desperately hoping for peace, cling to the fiction that security can be assured by demilitarization.

Before the final settlement, the PA will field an estimated 50,000 lightly-armed infantrymen. While still embryonic, the Army of Palestine is here. In final-status negotiations, Israel is likely to accept a Palestinian entity, and politicians will repeat the mantra that security will be guaranteed by demilitarizing it. Several facts suggest that demilitarization in a Palestinian state will be short-lived.

Convinced that Palestine must have an army, Arafat began building the "core of a regular army" in 1989. He is expanding it under the euphemism of "police" until a structured military body takes shape as the armed force of an independent state. An Arab country without an army is unthinkable. It would be the laughingstock of the Arab world. And this degradation, recognized as a severe infringement of sovereignty, will be imposed by coercion, acquiescence being the only route to statehood. It will also be unilateral; no part of Israel will be demilitarized.

In the unlikely instance that demilitarization stands any chance of success, it must be mutually acceptable and refer to a limited space rather than all of a country's territory. In the case at hand, all four factors - infringement of sovereignty, coercion, reciprocity and extent of area - augur that demilitarization will almost certainly fail. The PA will also argue the need to defend itself against domination or invasion by irredentist neighbors. Pointing to an external threat, Palestine could, one day, abrogate the demilitarization clauses, citing the rule of international law regarding "fundamental changes of circumstances," compounded by the internationally recognized right to self-defense.

All these reasons would be less meaningful were it not for Israeli tolerance of Arafat's flagrant violations of the Oslo accords, including creation of an army. This grievous policy only invites further breaches after an entity is solidly in place. The outer limits to expansion of the Palestinian order of battle will depend only on how far violations can go before the threat to security provokes the certainty of an Israeli response.

Ending breaches of demilitarization requires national will. Peace generates devotion to the good life, and a lack of motivation to engage in corrective action, including war. The result is futile diplomatic protests and a tendency to rationalize violations. This is best exemplified by the French and British reaction to the German remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, which threatened the peace of Europe. Israelis will repeat what the British said about Germany: "They have the right to arm. After all, it's their country."

Faced with a long series of "minor" infractions, Israel would need to decide after each violation whether to take action, economic or military. Complicating the process would be the state of the IDF. A reduction in its size following peace would produce extreme caution in responding forcefully to violations. In an era of peace, the nation will turn inward to deal with internal problems, paying inadequate attention to "unimportant" activity across the border.

External pressures will interact with internal to block meaningful action. Israel would have to consider the possibility of US and European economic and Arab military retaliation. As Arab countries and Iran stockpile chemical and biological weapons and missiles, Israel will be more hesitant to take military steps. Israelis will justify inaction by saying the new Arab entity "wouldn't dare challenge the IDF."

While Palestine poses no threat by itself, a militarized entity would constitute a real danger as part of an Arab coalition at war with Israel. Operating in units up to the company level armed with antitank weapons, anti-aircraft missiles, mortars, machine guns and mines, the Palestinian Army would attack military and civilian targets just prior to and during the initial assault by Arab coalition forces. In a variation of a 1940 German tactic, this lightly-armed infantry could be supplemented by hundreds, even thousands, of Syrian special forces introduced into Palestine as tourists and businessmen. As Palestinian units cause delays in mobilization of reserves and the movement of tanks, APCs and logistical convoys to the front, the IDF would need to divert significant forces away from the axes of enemy advance in order to suppress them.

Tying up desperately-needed troops in the initial stage might be what one Israeli analyst called, "the 50 grams that would change the Arab-Israeli strategic balance in [the Arabs'] favor." Those responsible for placing geostrategic territory in hostile hands will have much to account for. Naively and dangerously expecting that it will remain demilitarized, they are throwing away Israel's buckler, moving a potential enemy closer to its heart.

If the nation does not comprehend, quickly, the danger of employing demilitarization as a primary security measure in a final agreement, it will pay a terrible price for ephemeral tranquility. (c) Jerusalem Post 1997


Bernard Smith is a member of the board of directors of The Jerusalem Institute of Western Defense.

 HOME  Maccabean  comments