By Yehuda Poch

This has indeed been an entertaining weekend in Israel. Prime Minister Sharon, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz have provided live theater at its best. No Broadway troupe could have done better.

The action began on October 4, when Arab snipers opened fire from the Abu Sneineh neighbourhood of Hevron, attacking a crowd of Jewish visitors at the Machpela Cave. The visitors had come in honour of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, and were in Hevron for two days of festivities. When the gunshots rang out, two women were injured, and the rest of the festivities were curtailed.

The IDF reacted swiftly, entering Abu Sneineh, and the nearby Haret-a-Sheikh neighbourhood, which had also been the scene of sniper attacks. This time, the IDF actually remained in the neighbourhoods, and quiet descended for ten days.

This past weekend, agreement was reached with the Palestinians that the neighbourhoods would remain quiet if the IDF pulled out, and an Israeli security cabinet meeting on Friday decided to approve the pullout.

Enter Mofaz. Yesterday morning, he issued a statement to the press condemning the decision and saying that it would hamper Israeli efforts to maintain security in the area. It so incensed Sharon and Ben-Eliezer that Ben-Eliezer told Sharon at the cabinet meeting that he was prepared to fire Mofaz.

Let us now take a step back and look at the background to this issue. In 1997, when Binyamin Netanyahu pulled the IDF out of Hevron, he told Hevron residents that if there were to be any attacks from Arabs against Jews in the area, the IDF would immediately re-enter the Arab neighbourhoods to re-impose calm. Over the next four years, there were sporadic attacks, but no effort on the part of Israel to fulfill Netanyahu's pledge.

Last March, a sniper fired from Abu Sneineh into the Jewish neighbourhood in central Hevron, killing ten-month-old Shalhevet Pass in front of her young parents. With all the accompanying horror that the killing invoked, calls were heard across the nation for the IDF to permanently re-enter Abu Sneineh. The IDF, under orders from the political echelon did not heed these calls.

Over the summer, the IDF did re-enter Abu Sneineh a number of times, but each time retreated after a matter of hours. Still, calm did not ensue, and two women were hospitalized earlier this month because of it.

Mofaz is very much a security-minded general. He has publicly stated that Yasser Arafat is an enemy of Israel, and that the current unrest is a war that must be fought with all necessary means.

He is also a man whose superiors are preventing him from doing his job. The boldness of his statement yesterday morning is proof of that. For rarely if ever does a senior IDF officer in uniform offer any opinion on matters political. That Mofaz saw the need to issue his statement shows that something is dreadfully wrong in paradise.

What is most interesting, though, is that Mofaz's statement might not really be all that surprising. There are many people who believe that the issue is one of security, not politics, and that as such it was Mofaz's duty to voice his opinion. One such person is the National Religious Party's faction chairman, Shaul Yahalom. Yahalom has not been heard from in a while, mostly because his party, such a natural partner for Sharon's Likud decided to marginalize itself in the opposition. But yesterday, Yahalom issued a statement to the effect that Mofaz's opinion was based on security considerations, and therefore it was proper and necessary for Mofaz to speak out.

And Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer added support, however unintentionally, to Yahalom's comment. In a statement from Ben-Eliezer's office, he said, "it can be derived from Mofaz's announcement that the politicians are harming the security of Israeli civilians and soldiers, while the Chief of General Staff is protecting them."

Those are tough words coming from one of the highest officials in the land. So let us examine them more closely.

"The politicians" signed the Oslo Accords in 1993 against the opinions of military leaders at the time. More than 600 Israelis have been killed since then by our co-signatories.

"The politicians" continued to sign agreements with these same killers, even as the killing went on. In 1994 in Cairo, in 1995 in Oslo, in 1997 to abandon Hevron, in 1998 at the Wye River plantation, in 1999 at Sharm-e-Sheikh, and almost another one in 2000 at Camp David. Throughout the process, more land, more resources, and more legitimacy has been given to terrorists, while in return Israel received more dead and injured victims, more broken families, mor orphans and widows, and more tears.

During that time, two successive Chiefs-of-Staff have turned into politicians, and both have supported a continuation of this process of non-peace.

Now, at long last, we have a Chief of Staff who knows security when he doesn't see it, and who is both bothered and courageous enough to stand for his principles. Those principles include maintaining what precious little security we have.

Perhaps Ben-Eliezer is onto something. The Chief of Staff actually has the security of Israelis as his top priority. What a concept. And as far as "the politicians" go, if the combat boot fits...

15-October-2001 Copyright 2001.


Yehuda Poch is a journalist living in Israel.

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