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The great Gaza debate

Op-ed: Operation Cast Lead highlighted clash between ‘Olmert doctrine’ and ‘Barak doctrine’

Published: 12.29.10, 18:38 / Israel Opinion

Part 1 of article

 

In a few months or a year, the government may instruct the IDF to embark on Operation Cast Lead 2. “It’s not a question of if, but rather, of when,” say senior IDF officers, as well as government ministers, Knesset members and municipal heads in the Gaza region.

 

In this context, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are engaged in an emotional dispute replete with smearing. Yet beyond the personal-emotional component of this dispute and the desire for revenge, this is a substantive, fundamental clash between two strategic perceptions in respect to Gaza: The maximalist “Olmert doctrine,” enthusiastically endorsed by then-Southern Command Chief Yoav Galant and several senior Southern Command officers, and the minimalist “Barak doctrine,” which Army Chief Ashkenazi and many General Staff officers were fully involved in shaping and executing.

 

The dispute between the two camps was managed behind the scenes, during IDF planning sessions and in security cabinet sessions before embarking on Operation Cast Lead. It continued in full force, emerging in an ugly and damaging manner in the midst of the operation and mostly in its final stages. This prompted an unjustified and dangerous delay in pulling IDF units out of Gaza after they already exhausted the targets defined for them. It also enabled Hamas to claim that it managed to curb and push back IDF troops without stopping for a moment its rocket attacks on Israel.

 

According to the Olmert-Galant doctrine, the target of Operation Cast Lead should have been total and its constitutive notion should have been the toppling of Hamas’ rule in the Strip via an ongoing military campaign. The IDF was supposed to take over the northern and central Strip and the Philadelphi Route. After the takeover was complete, IDF troops were to stay in the area for some time in order to allow the Shin Bet and army to eliminate most rocket attack capabilities and destroy the tunnels and arms smuggling infrastructure on the Egyptian border.

 

Meanwhile, according to the same doctrine, negotiations would be conducted on the international stage aimed at bringing a multinational force into the Strip to manage local affairs and prevent terror until the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority is able to retake power and rule the area effectively, as it does in the West Bank. The Americans, Egyptians, Palestinian Authority, Europeans and other elements – such as Turkey, for example – were supposed to be parties to such arrangement, to be secured under UN and possibly NATO auspices.

 

Eradicating terror gradually

On the other hand, the Barak-Ashkenazi doctrine was much less ambitious - or “realistic” as they characterized it. They shaped Operation Cast Lead as a military campaign with a major effect but limited in its targets, scope and duration to begin with. Their outline for the operation was premised on four fundamental assumptions:

 

1. It’s impossible to eradicate terror with one grand operation, as wide-ranging and successful as it may be. Terrorism can only be repressed gradually, as happened in the Second Intifada in the wake of Operation Defensive Shield. Hence, through Cast lead and subsequent operations, Israel needs to aspire for long periods of deterrence and lull that would enable Gaza-region communities to rebuild after eight years of ongoing attacks. Israel would utilize the lull in order to complete the establishment of a multilayer anti-rocket system while curbing Hamas’ military buildup and smuggling via Egypt and other international elements.

 

2. The IDF and Shin Bet are indeed capable of toppling Hamas’ rule and minimizing, for some time at least, the Gaza-based terror. Yet to that end, the IDF would have to conquer most of the Strip, including Gaza City and surrounding refugee camps, as well as the Philadelphi Route and possibly Rafah too. Yet the IDF will have to deploy in the area for a long time – possibly years – in large forces in order to enable the Shin Bet and army to capture most Hamas activists and uncover its infrastructure, as well as that of other organizations. Throughout this period, which may last from six months to three years, the IDF would have to assume responsibility for the population’s wellbeing. Ahead of Cast Lead, Barak tried to find out vis-à-vis Abbas, Egypt, and Western elements including NATO whether they would be willing to enter the Strip and maintain quiet and order until Abbas and his people are ready to regain power there. Barak’s efforts were met with complete rejection.

 

3. Toppling Hamas’ regime won’t put an end to terror. Following a short period of shock, terror groups would rise up and undertake significant efforts to fire rockets at Israel as well as hurt IDF troops and smuggle weapons via tunnels, as they did before the disengagement.

 

4. The ongoing friction between the IDF and local population would prompt condemnations of Israel on the international stage and deepen its diplomatic isolation.

 

Barak’s and Ashkenazi’s conclusion was that Operation Cast Lead should not aim to topple Hamas’ rule in the Strip, but rather, only prompt the group to stop or greatly minimize, for a long period of time (years if possible) the rocket and mortar attacks on Gaza-region communities as well as terror attacks on the Gaza fence.

 

These objectives were supposed to be achieved by the IDF by eroding Hamas’ military strength, harming the group’s image on the Palestinian street, destroying its fortifications and curbing its military buildup, and gravely undermining the Hamas government infrastructure and administration in the Strip. All of the above was meant to produce a substantive threat on the group’s ability to control the Strip, thereby creating an effective, long-lasting deterrence against it.

 

Moreover, the operation was supposed to produce an incentive for Egypt and international elements to significantly boost their operations against arms smuggling and the movement of Hamas activists to Iran and back for training. According to this doctrine, immediately after the targets were achieved, the IDF was to leave the Strip, in order to minimize the casualty toll, economic cost, and the price paid by Israel on the global stage as result of the ongoing friction vis-à-vis the Palestinian population.

 

Following the departure, the IDF was to maintain the deterrence via surgical operations against Hamas in response to any escalation in rocket and terror attacks by the organization and groups operating under its wings. This was to secure quiet for several years. According to Barak’s doctrine, if and when the lull is violated gravely and the deterrence evaporates, the IDF would again enter the Strip for a major, quick operation like Cast Lead, in order to restore the deterrence. This will happen time and again, until terror from the Strip would completely fade.

 

Part 2 of article to be published Wednesday night

 

 

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