Last week, as he presented his new government to the Knesset, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proclaimed that the scattered Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria present a threat to the country and so they must be destroyed.
If what Olmert says is true, then no patriotic Israeli or friend of the Jewish state can countenance the continued existence of these communities. Doing so would be tantamount to providing aid and comfort to Israel's enemies.
A central question for those who care about Israel and believe that its national security is crucial in the global war against Islamofascism thus becomes: Is Olmert correct when he states that scattered Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria are a threat to Israel's existence?
Olmert and his political associates provide two justifications for this assertion. First, they claim that protecting these communities is a drag on the resources of the IDF. They argue that the military would be able to significantly cut back on its operations and troop levels in the areas if it didn't have to protect them.
Second, they claim that the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria create friction with the Palestinians, and that this alleged friction is the root of Palestinian and Arab resentment of Israel that motivates them to wage war against the Jewish state.
According to this reasoning, if these communities were destroyed the Palestinians would lose interest in fighting Israel and so, more than terrorism, these communities are the reason that peace has eluded the region. Yet when one examines these twin justifications, it becomes apparent that Olmert's claims are incorrect. Far from being a drag on IDF resources, the isolated Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria are a tactical and strategic asset for the IDF.
Today, of all the thousands of IDF forces stationed in Judea and Samaria, only some 300 troops are dedicated to protecting the Israeli communities in the areas. Most of the communities that depend on IDF protection are located in the Jordan Valley, along the international border with Jordan. The rest of the forces in Judea and Samaria are stationed there in order to protect Israel's major cities – Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Afula, Netanya and Beersheba – from attacks by terror forces operating in Judea and Samaria.
ISRAEL'S MILITARY doctrine has always recognized the necessity of defeating Israel's enemies before they are able to reach Israel's population centers. Israel is such a small country, and its urban areas are so densely populated that it has always been understood that our enemies must not be allowed to operate in our cities.
This view was vindicated between 1994 and 2002, when Israel transferred its control over Judea and Samaria to the Palestinian Authority. Throughout those years the IDF drastically curtailed its operations in the areas. As a result, for the first time since the 1950s Israel's enemies were able to consistently attack its civilian population centers, causing an unprecedented civilian death toll. This trend was reversed only after Israel's counter-terrorist offensive in Judea and Samaria in April-May 2002, when, during Operation Defensive Shield, the IDF reasserted its control over the Palestinian towns and villages in Judea and Samaria. The drop in the Israeli urban civilian casualty rate since then is the direct result of the IDF's maintenance of that control in a manner than enables it to continuously curtail the seeding and growth of terror cells in the areas.
In Operation Defensive Shield, the IDF reached the city of Nablus in one day. It was able to do so because it launched its operations against the city from the isolated Israeli communities of Elon Moreh, Yizhar and Itamar – all of which Olmert intends to destroy. The communities, and all others like them, constituted friendly, fortified and stable forward operating bases for the IDF.
If the IDF had not had these communities, it could easily have taken seven to 10 days of heavy fighting for the IDF to have been in a position to launch its offensive against Nablus. That fighting would have been over control of the highways.
In Lebanon in the 1990s and in Gaza from 2000 on, the IDF surrendered control of the highways to Hizbullah and the Palestinian terror units. Once it lost control of the highways, it garrisoned its forces in static, fortified locations and so surrendered the initiative to its enemies. In both Lebanon and Gaza the IDF suffered its highest casualties from roadside bombs and attacks on convoys.
The IDF has not suffered a similar fate in Judea and Samaria since 2000 because of the isolated communities in the areas. When Israeli families are driving in unarmored cars, the IDF cannot very well limit itself to armored convoy traffic. To a degree, it is the presence of the Israeli civilians in the areas that has forced the IDF to maintain control of the roads. And it is this IDF control of the roads that is most responsible for keeping suicide bombers out of Israel's major cities.
EVERY MONTH IDF forces intercept dozens of Palestinian terrorists at roadblocks. The Hawara checkpoint outside Nablus on the road to Itamar, for instance, has been the site of hundreds of such intercepts. By stopping them at Hawara and in other isolated spots in close proximity to isolated Israeli communities, the IDF saves the police the need to try to find the terrorists in Jerusalem or Netanya and has saved the lives of countless Israelis who would otherwise have been murdered.
Proponents of destroying the Israeli communities in Gaza argued that by removing them Israel would gain the tactical benefit of shorter defensive lines. Yet far from conferring a tactical advantage, the shortening of the lines caused by the destruction of the communities of Gush Katif gave the tactical advantage to Israel's enemies.
Israel's chief advantages over the Palestinian forces are its superior technology and firepower. But these advantages are neutralized by our enemies' ability to carry out their attacks from among a civilian population that Israel is unwilling to target.
Gush Katif constituted an irresistible target for the Palestinians. In attempting to attack its communities, the terrorists were forced to separate themselves from the protective shield of their civilian populations and so exposed themselves to IDF guns. In most cases, they were killed.
Now that Israel has no communities in Gaza, it is unable to effectively separate terrorists from the general population, and so its operations against terror cells are both ineffective and open the IDF to condemnation by the Israeli and international Left.
IN THE SAME manner, the isolated communities in Judea and Samaria have been the site of countless terrorist operations. Some, like the massacres of the Shebo family in Itamar and the Gavish family in Elon Moreh in 2002, have been murderously successful. Most have failed at great cost to the terrorists.
In all cases, the Israelis who live in these communities have demonstrated a heroic willingness to place themselves at risk and accept losses to ensure the security and well-being of the country as a whole.
Last Friday the PA's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said, "From Lebanon to the West Bank, the Zionist enterprise is in retreat." Haniyeh contrasted this perceived retreat with what he views as the rise of the Palestinians on all fronts. He singled out Arab Israelis for special commendation for refusing to accept the existence of Israel within the 1949 armistice lines.
Against statements like Haniyeh's, Olmert's assertion that the existence of isolated Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria is a root cause of the Palestinian and Arab war against Israel today is exposed in all its strategic blindness. Far from moderating the Palestinians, Israel's retreat from Gaza
last summer radicalized them and their allies throughout the Islamic world by fanning their faith that Israel will one day disappear completely.
At the end of the day, Israel will achieve peace only when the Palestinians and the Arab world in general accept the fact that Israel will never be wiped off the map and so agree to peacefully coexist with the Jewish state. By asserting that the commingling of Jews and Arabs in Judea and Samaria is a cause of the war, Olmert is saying that there is no chance of ever coexisting with the Arabs. In so doing, he is effectively telling Israel's worst enemies that they are right – that the Jews are retreating and will eventually disappear if they keep fighting.
In light of all of this, it is terrifyingly clear that Israel's new prime minister has placed as the centerpiece of his government's goals the implementation of a policy that is based on mythology and will lead not to the enhancement of Israel's national security and the strengthening of the forces fighting the global jihad, but to the destabilization of Israel's national security and a strategic defeat for the nations, led by the US, that are fighting the war against Islamofascism.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.