IMRA'S COMMENTARY:

An End To Red Lines? Inviting a War of Attrition?

By Aaron Lerner

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Only a year ago the citizens of Israel gave Ariel Sharon an unprecedented massive victory against his Labor Party challenger in a campaign that focused on a proposal to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip.

Candidate Sharon savagely attacked Labor party candidate Mitzna's retreat proposal as the idea of a "novice".

The Likud Party mandates swelled while Labor and Meretz shrank as a result of this national referendum on retreat. Even many voters who previously supported the radical Left Meretz Party opted to support the Shinui Party, a party that warned in their campaign against the dangers of retreat ("We will not withdraw without an agreement, since the Palestinians would interpret this as a victory for terror that would invite the continuation of terror from the point we withdraw from.").

A year later, Mr. Sharon is discussing taking steps that even "novice" Mitzna would not have considered. He is doing everything in his power to try and create circumstances that will enable him to somehow force the Government and Knesset that were elected as a result of the public's rejection of retreat to embrace retreat.

Does Sharon have "red lines"? Is there anything the he sees Israel as requiring regardless of what Washington says? Apparently not. Speaking to a meeting of angry and frustrated Likud MKs this week Sharon threatened that if they gave him anything less than carte blanche that Israel could find itself "with nothing". That is to say that there are no red lines that Israel would stand by come what may, just lines that it would prefer not to cross.

And as Sharon gave his party's leadership a taste of the fear campaign he plans to run in order to try and force the nation to embrace retreat, the shocking details of the retreat Sharon is willing to entertain became public.

In a move that separates Sharon from all but the most radical Israeli Left, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has proposed that instead of striving for a demilitarized Palestinian Gaza Strip, Israel should invite the Egyptian Army to deploy in place of the IDF, thus putting Egyptian forces essentially at the gates of Ashkelon and within around 40 miles of Tel Aviv. So far Egypt has rejected the opportunity to remove the key element of the Egyptian Israeli peace treaty that made possible Israeli withdrawal from the entire Sinai: a series of progressively more restricted limited force zones spanning the Sinai to protect Israel against surprise invasion.

And if the Egyptian army won't come in, Sharon proposes that Israel also retreat from the Egypt/Gaza border, thus removing the last obstacle to massive weapons flows from Egypt to the Palestinians. Security officials warned that this move would turn Gaza into one large "Karine A".

As for the West Bank, Sharon is entertaining the possibility of large retreats - this at the same time that security officials warn of Palestinian intentions to develop artillery and rockets capabilities so that they can attack over whatever security fences will be in place. As bizarre as it sounds, Sharon is working to create a situation on the ground in which the IDF would ultimately not be deployed in a way that it would interfere with the flow of these weapons throughout the West Bank.

Retreat supporters cite what they interpret as a stalemate in Lebanon as evidence that the Palestinian threat can be held at bay regardless of what arms capabilities they acquire.

Such an interpretation of what has transpired since Israel retreated from Lebanon and Hezbollah brought in 12,000 Iranian missiles might follow if the Hezbollah were Israelis. But they aren't Israelis. They don't think in terms of days or weeks. The crusaders weren't expelled from the region overnight and they have the patience to invest just as much time to achieve
the goal of ultimately cleansing the region of what they see as the modern day crusaders.

When an Israeli timeframe is applied to Lebanon, the "stalemate" that preceded the massive inflow of weapons to Lebanon is seen as a permanent outcome rather than a strategic Arab achievement in their ongoing war of attrition against the Jewish State. A war of attrition in which the interim goal of demoralizing the Jewish enemy might be achieved by a low intensity conflict whose resolution by decisive action Israel cannot justify due tothe heavy costs associated with breaking the stalemate.

Today the IDF bombs empty buildings on Lebanon in response to Hezbollah attacks out of fear of the consequences if a stronger response may be met with the blanket bombing of northern Israel by Hezbollah's 12,000 missiles. A post retreat situation in Gaza and the West Bank promises the rapid development of a Palestinian deterrent of such a magnitude that Israel might choose to essentially absorb even medium intensity Palestinian terror rather than risk bearing the heavy costs of breaking the "stalemate".

There can be no greater irony than that the man who so despised stalemates in his military career should now be investing all his efforts into what in the best of all reasonably possible outcomes will be a bloody and costly permanent war of attrition/stalemate.

Dr. Aaron Lerner, Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)(Mail POB 982 Kfar Sava)
Tel 972-9-7604719/Fax 972-3-7255730
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Website: http://www.imra.org.il