The Jerusalem Post, February 20, 2002

A ROADBLOCK LEADING TO A CROSS ROADS

Analysis by Arieh O'Sullivan

The Jerusalem Post, (February 20) - The disaster at Ein Arik in which six soldiers were killed without an apparent fight may go down in history like the 1987 "Night of the Hang Glider," when a Palestinian who glided into the North slipped into a base and killed eight soldiers. But in 1987, the soldiers were able to kill the gunman.

The Ein Arik incident has put the IDF into a trap. It will force the army to retaliate in such a way it can rebuild its image of a mighty cohesive army which believes in the justice of its mission. Since February 10, at least 14 soldiers, one policeman, and three civilians have been killed in what appears to be an unprecedented number of successful attacks.

The Palestinians' victories have never been so great as they have in the past week. Even as the helicopters rocket Hamas offices in the Jabalya refugee camp, F-16s bomb Palestinian Police barracks, and tanks are a few hundred meters from Yasser Arafat's Ramallah office, the Palestinians are gloating.

This week they have rejoiced over the destruction of the Merkava III tank and the accidental death of the commander of the Duvdevan undercover unit, two of the biggest symbols of the occupation.

The general public doesn't know this, but the IDF is out there in the territories on raids lasting for days as they hunt down terrorists. The Shin Bet, IDF, and police have been able to foil some 80 percent of the attempted terror attacks, a senior IDF officer said yesterday.

But the public only sees the mishaps, the pathetic performance of a paratrooper squad that allowed an unarmed Palestinian to sneak up on them, beat up one, and steal his weapon as another shot a soldier dead, then flee without a scratch.

And while the details of the assault at Ein Arik are still sketchy, it appears the soldiers were surprised and cut down without a fight. The gunmen were also able to flee, apparently because they wiped out all of the soldiers except one, who was wounded. When this sort of modus operandi first surfaced last August at the Marganit outpost in the Gaza Strip, it was clear the model would be copied.

Two gunmen killed three soldiers then. We saw it again at the Africa outposts in which three soldiers and an officer from the Beduin Desert Patrol unit were killed in December. The Palestinian Authority is doing nothing to stop these so-called terrorists, who are really behaving like well trained, highly motivated commandos.

Some in the military are saying the reason for the apparent poor performance of troops is fatigue, lengthy service in the territories, and the inability to be rotated out. This is true. On paper, regular army units are supposed to rotate out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip into training, but they are almost always called back for emergencies. In some ways - and many readers will not like to hear this - this is an indirect result of the country's hesitation to call up reservists for more than 25 days of active reserve duty in the territories.

The army is proud of the high attendance rate in reserve units, but it is a fragile statistic and there is already a phenomenon of "gray refusal." Not only that, but the number of refusers, while marginal, is another reminder the army cannot push reserve units too far and call them up for more time as they did in the first intifada. This means the small standing army is left to bear the burden.

A senior officer yesterday said the PA has "removed the bridle" from the terror organizations. The PA is not doing anything to rein them in or foil their attacks. It doesn't matter where or when - just make the Israelis bleed.

The defense establishment will now have to take quick action. There will be a lot of pressure to change the reality. In his first meeting with military reporters in 1998, soon after he took over as chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz said he wanted an army with "a keener fighting spirit." There is no substitute for victory in every contact with the enemy, he said.

"Combat units need to know victory is a value. There can be no compromises in their contact [with the enemy], and they must be professionals," he said.

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