This mayhem is meant to create the kind of trauma in Israeli public opinion that would prevent further evacuations in the future. Security forces are tasked with a complex mission in the coming hours and days: Curbing the “Jewish Intifada” at its outset, before the Palestinians respond, before blood is spilled, before we see casualties on both sides, and before Israel is isolated in international public opinion because of the helplessness it displays in handling the rioters. This mission is much more complicated than the evacuation of the house in Hebron.
The relatively smooth evacuation of the house can be credited to the fact that the IDF and police learned and applied the lessons of previous evacuation operations. Therefore, they designated a huge number of forces for the mission, which created a situation whereby the law-breakers were facing an inferior position. The huge number of troops also prevented police officers and soldiers from finding themselves in distressful situations that could have prompted them to resort to unreasonable violence. Meanwhile, using special police forces and Border Guard troops while keeping the IDF away from the physical confrontation was also a wise move. And most importantly – the element of surprise.
The Yesha Council leadership and several politicians are accusing the defense minister of deceit that enabled him to embark on a surprise operation. They say that the dialogue Barak engaged in with them in the morning was only meant to lull them and the people barricaded in the Hebron house. The settlers claim that Barak, who appeared to be trying to buy some more time, in fact decided at that point already that the evacuation operation will start around noon.
However, this argument is baseless, because Barak said in advance that the proposals of settler leaders which he was aware of were unacceptable. Even those who are upset about the “deceit” must admit that the secrecy and element of surprise made the clashes between those barricaded in the house and security forces less violent than expected. We should also note that one of the reasons for the relatively low number of people barricaded in the house was the fact that the youngsters who arrived at the site recently and carried out “mini-pogroms” against the Palestinians in the days ahead of the evacuation caused disgust among the Yesha leadership, as well as among the silent majority of the settlers – and even among right-wing politicians. These people isolated themselves and even their supporters distanced themselves from them.
Averting civil war
However, all of the above does not guarantee that security forces will be successful later on as well. We should assume that the anger and frustration caused by the evacuation among the settlers, and particularly among radical rightists and the “hilltop youths,” will prompt hundreds of them to get out there. Some of them already vowed to return to the building that was the focal point of the confrontation.
The IDF and police have indeed reinforced their presence across Judea and Samaria. They are also making sure to closely monitor, through intelligence means, developments in the area and have prepared reserve forces and even helicopters that would transport them quickly to friction points. However, the mountainous topographical conditions, as well as the wadis and orchards, enable small groups of rioters to secretly infiltrate Palestinian communities and carry out their intentions. Pursuing them would be a difficult and complex mission, and could prompt unplanned clashes with Palestinian gunmen who may take advantage of the opportunity. In addition, we should keep in mind that the forces designated for curbing Jewish rioters would not be available to carry out anti-terror operations against the Palestinians.
These are difficult days for the Israeli government, for security forces, and also for the established leaderships of the settlers in Judea and Samaria. If they are unable, through cooperation, to contain the riots and curb them, not only will Israeli democracy be undermined; the whole State of Israel could end up facing chaos and possibly, heaven forbid, a civil war.