April 16, 2012 Edition 12 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
From security cooperation to circle of violence: ten years to Operation Defensive Shield
How we got to here  - Ghassan Khatib
Why is Israel not held to task for its actions?

Lessons we must not ignore  - Yossi Alpher
The decision to rely on Arafat as a peace partner contributed to discrediting the peace process among the Israeli public.

A sea-change in trust  - Mohammed Najib
Senior Israeli officials say it is impossible to return to the status quo that existed prior to Operation Defensive Shield.

Restoring IDF freedom of action  - Shlomo Brom
The operation reflected a clear shift in Israeli counter-terrorism strategy.

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How we got to here
 Ghassan Khatib
Ten years ago, Israel reoccupied the Palestinian Authority areas that had been designated in peace agreements as "Area A", i.e., areas under the civilian and security authority of the Palestinian Authority. That Israeli aggression, dubbed Operation Defensive Shield, dramatically changed the status quo that was created by the Oslo agreements, which was intended to be a transition to a permanent solution agreed on through final status negotiations.

Palestinians and the rest of the international community were hoping that a two-state solution would result from these negotiations. But, like many other major developments in this conflict, the two sides had two completely different interpretations of the 2002 incursions. Israelis justified the unprecedented attack and reoccupation of the Palestinian territories as a response to increased violence directed at Israelis by Palestinians, which included suicide bombings. Palestinians, the majority of whom did not approve of suicide bombings, had a different understanding of that Israeli offensive. Palestinians believed that violence had erupted between the two sides only after years of Israeli stalling in implementing the Oslo interim agreements and the parallel Israeli policies of expanding illegal Israeli settlements and stealing Palestinian land. The violence also followed an increase in Israeli army violence and settler terrorism against Palestinians, including the Ibrahimi mosque massacre in which Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire and killed more than 20 Palestinians offering the dawn prayer in Hebron. Violence and counter-violence escalated and developed into a vicious cycle.

That wave of violence ended gradually, accompanied by a proactive policy from the Palestinian Authority and security cooperation between the two sides. Despite four or five years of complete success by the Palestinian Authority in preventing all kinds of Palestinian violence against Israel and Israelis, and in spite of Palestinians' comprehensive fulfillment of all obligations of the roadmap (which was the international community's contribution to ending the wave of violence and bringing parties back to reasonable negotiations), Israel today continues under the new reality that it created during its offensive and reoccupation. Daily incursions persist into Area A, in violation of the Oslo arrangements and in line with the assumptions of Operation Defensive Shield. At the same time, Israel continues to freeze any implementation of the interim agreement that was intended to ensure a gradual Israeli redeployment from the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories, except Jerusalem and the settlements whose status is to be negotiated in permanent status talks. Moreover, Israel has actually accelerated its illegal expansion of Jewish settlements, especially in the last open areas available for the future Palestinian state.

Palestinians see that Israeli public opinion has gradually radicalized and shifted rightward in the years since the assassination of peace agreement-signatory Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, as reflected in successive Israeli governments and parliaments. They view this as a deep change that means a shift from public support for a solution based on territorial compromise (thus allowing for a Palestinian state) towards a general strategy that allows Israel to maintain various levels of control on parts of occupied Palestinian territory. Part of the problem is the absence of any accountability from the International community. Israel, which has not fulfilled any of its obligations under the roadmap, is unquestionably responsible for the current status quo that it generated for political and ideological reasons, using in part the tool of Operation Defensive Shield. Why, therefore, is it not held to task for its actions?- Published 16/4/2012 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Lessons we must not ignore
 Yossi Alpher
There are important lessons to be learned from Operation Defensive Shield, the Israel Defense Forces' aggressive push deep into the West Bank beginning in late March 2002. Both Israelis and Palestinians ignore these lessons at their peril.

Perhaps most obviously, at least from the Israeli standpoint, Defensive Shield was triggered by Palestinian suicide bombings. So, for that matter, was construction of the security fence (and in a few places, wall) that now separates most of Israel from most of the West Bank and that commenced more or less in parallel with the military move. The Israeli psyche--indeed, Israelis' attitudes toward peace with the Palestinians--was heavily influenced by the trauma of the suicide bombings, which were directed specifically at Israeli civilians.

At the time, most Palestinians supported the suicide bombings. These days, according to many surveys, roughly 50 percent still justify them, thereby significantly contributing to ongoing Israeli distrust of a Palestinian peace partner. It's safe to say that a new wave of suicide bombings would be a certain way to provoke renewed Israeli aggression against the Palestinian establishment perceived as supporting them.

Defensive Shield hastened the demise and death of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and rendered his legacy highly problematic. Alongside his obvious accomplishment of moving the Palestinian issue to the center stage of international affairs and negotiating the Oslo accords and the creation of the PA, he is also remembered by Israelis as furtively supporting Palestinian violence toward them, including the suicide bombings. The decision by Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak to rely on Arafat as a peace partner eventually contributed significantly to discrediting the peace process among the Israeli public. Interestingly, I encounter more and more Palestinians these days who acknowledge this crucial flaw in Arafat and its disastrous consequences.

Today, in retrospect, with Israel's less-than-successful military operations in South Lebanon (2006) and the Gaza Strip (2008-9) behind us, Defensive Shield must also be understood as a reminder that Israel has great difficulty in dealing militarily with provocations by non-state neighbors on its borders. While these operations did succeed in generating a degree of deterrence, it is only partial and temporary deterrence. What exactly Defensive Shield "seared into the Palestinian conscience" (in the words of then IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon)--whether deterrence, hatred, a sense of futility, or a combination thereof--remains open to debate.

Nor did these major anti-terrorist military operations move us at all closer to political solutions. Today we contemplate a professional and capable Palestinian security force in the West Bank and a Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who has resolved to reject violence as a strategy. Yet we are probably further from a two-state solution in 2012 than we were in 2002, with Israel's leadership at least as deserving of blame as Abbas.

There remains one bizarre and even macabre historical coincidence to consider in the context of Operation Defensive Shield. The March 27, 2002 suicide bombing that triggered the operation was the Pesach attack on a hotel that killed 30 celebrants--the worst suicide bombing in Israeli-Palestinian history. It took place scarcely one day before an Arab League summit, meeting in Beirut, enacted the Arab Peace Initiative, the most far-reaching collective Arab peace proposal to date. The jarring juxtaposition of these two events, one unspeakably barbaric, the other projecting real hope for peace, has resonated ever since.

Sadly, the memory of the suicide bombing is still with us, and will be for a long time. Happily, so is the prospect for peace embodied in the API. But with the Arab world undergoing radical change, that may not remain the case for long.-Published 16/4/2012 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

A sea-change in trust
 Mohammed Najib
Ten years after Operation Defensive Shield, the wide Israeli operation in the West Bank, a new reality has been created on the ground, whose impact deeply affects West Bank residents.

Operation Defensive Shield was launched in late March 2002, less than two years after the eruption of the second Palestinian intifada, when then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his defense minister decided (as they stated) to uproot the infrastructure of the Palestinian resistance and stop suicide bomb attacks against Israel. Today, however, senior Palestinian security officials and politicians deeply believe that the Israeli leadership also sought to end the Oslo agreements, the peace process and the hopes for a two-state solution, which Sharon never believed in.

Sharon managed to convince the US, in particular, and the western world in general that suicide bomb attacks carried out against Israeli civilians by Palestinian armed groups were similar to the 9/11 attacks against the US. This helped him to gain support and approval for the use of excessive force against Palestinians in the West Bank and against then Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who was placed under siege for more than two years in his compound in Ramallah. Speedily, Palestinian Authority-Israeli security relations deteriorated dramatically from one of partnership to enmity.

Defensive Shield remains today the second-largest military operation conducted by Israel in the West Bank following that of the 1967 war. The tactics used included moving from house to house, later used by US forces in their Iraq invasion. It was the first time Israel engaged the majority of its regular armed force in fighting against guerilla groups in urban built-up areas.

The operation, which lasted for more than two months, brought about 70 percent of the Palestinian casualties from the years-long Aqsa intifada: 7,502 were killed, among them 1,126 children under the age of 16 as well as 518 women, 69 Palestinian security officers, and 250 men over the age of 60. In the same period, Israeli settlers killed 90 Palestinians. Israeli armed forces injured and arrested tens of thousands of people, demolished numerous houses and other structures, and uprooted hundreds of dunams of trees.

Defensive Shield ended with the construction of the segregation wall, which consumed 400 square kilometers of the West Bank (nine percent of the total land occupied in the 1967 war), controlled key West Bank aquifers, and redrew the borders of the interim Palestinian entity. Israel reoccupied Palestinian cities that are parts of Area A under Palestinian Authority security control.

The operation also led to a complete deterioration in trust between Israeli security services and their Palestinian counterparts. "Despite the ongoing meetings between us and the Palestinian Authority field security commanders, there is a limitation to this cooperation as we cannot provide them with intelligence and we treat them cautiously," a senior Israeli security source said.

A Palestinian official confirms that "the current security cooperation today takes place regarding urgent issues such as moving our forces from one city to another, or transporting prisoners from one governorate to another, while the Israelis invade Area A at anytime in the day and night and arrest without informing us about the details."

A senior PA security official said more: "There's no shortage of trustworthy PA security commanders; on the contrary, they are more trustworthy than those who were there at the launch of Operation Defensive Shield, but the issue is trusting their capability to carry out the job that the Israeli security and military services need."

PA-Israeli security coordination significantly increased following the Hamas takeover in Gaza in mid-June 2007, after which the Palestinian security services in the West Bank cracked down heavily on Hamas to prevent it from repeating there its move in Gaza.

"Operation Defensive Shield was not a deterrent on our resistance operations as much as the high level of security cooperation between the PA and Israeli security services," a senior Hamas security field commander says. "I met in Israeli jail several Qassam fighters that had amazing tactics for avoiding the separation wall and targeting Israel," he went on. A senior Palestinian security official denied that claim, however, saying that the wall's presence in "Area C where the PA has no presence harms resistance behind the wall."

Following Operation Defensive Shield, the PA purchased the light arms of Fateh's military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and absorbed some of them into its security apparatuses after they received amnesty from the Israeli army, which had targeted them for arrest.

Senior PA security officials say that Operation Defensive Shield was a very tough message to a Palestinian leadership that had refused Israeli conditions for negotiations and a political solution, and a response to the use of armed struggle against Israel. "There is a crisis in trust [persisting] from 2002 until today," confirmed Major General Adnan Damiri, spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority security services. Despite the current security coordination, senior Israeli Shin Bet and military officials say that it is impossible to return to the status quo that existed prior to Operation Defensive Shield. No Israeli security or military field commander would agree now to turn over more territory to the PA.

Israeli security and military leaders believe that Defensive Shield led to a Palestinian strategic shift away from armed struggle for political aims, but it also harmed Israeli army performance. The engagement of a massive number of forces in what Israel calls an "anti-terrorism war" for six years led directly to their poor performance in the July 2006 mini-war against Hizballah in southern Lebanon.

In sum, Operation Defensive Shield decimated the Oslo agreements, harmed the infrastructure of Palestinian armed groups and ensured absolute Israeli security control over the West Bank, including areas A.-Published 16/4/2012 ©

Mohammed Najib is a correspondent for Jane's Defense Weekly.

Restoring IDF freedom of action
 Shlomo Brom
Operation Defensive Shield began on March 29 and ended on April 10, 2002. It was the first large-scale operation initiated by Israel since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000 that engaged a large part of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It was a turning point in Israel's struggle to stop the bloodshed caused by this intifada. The reason for the decision to launch the operation was an increase in Palestinian suicide bombings in Israeli cities that reached its peak on March 27 when 30 civilians were murdered during a Passover holiday dinner at Park hotel in Netanya.

A large Israel Defense Forces contingent numbering more than 20,000 soldiers participated in the operation. Their declared purpose was to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank, but the operation targeted not only armed groups that participated in the terrorist operations.

The perception in Israel was that this armed intifada was planned, initiated, organized and supported by PA President Yasser Arafat.
Therefore all PA infrastructure and institutes were targeted, with special emphasis on security organs, which were attacked and disarmed. The muqataa, the campus of PA government buildings, was placed under a siege that was effectively lifted only after the death of Arafat. One particularly striking case was the destruction of the headquarters of West Bank Preventive Security headed by Jibril Rajoub. It was attacked even though Rajoub had not allowed the organization under his command to take part or assist in any terrorist operation.

The perception in Israel that the operation brought about an immediate and dramatic decrease in the level of Palestinian terrorist operations was in fact not validated by statistics for the months that followed this operation. It seems that the direct damage caused to the armed groups involved in these terrorist actions was balanced by an increase in motivation to take revenge and fight Israel. The real decrease began only in the next year, 2003.

Nevertheless, the operation made a great contribution to Israel's success in eventually suppressing terrorist activities because through this operation the IDF and Israel's other security organs regained their freedom of action in the West Bank. Before the operation, there was much concern in Israel that the PA's security organs would prevent independent Israeli security activities in the areas under their control. After the disarming of these organs, complete Israeli control and full freedom of action were achieved. This facilitated more effective intelligence collection and the dismantling of terrorist cells and interception of terrorists before they could reach their targets.

This approach also reflected a clear shift in Israeli counter-terrorism strategy. Before the operation it was based on defensive measures, punitive operations against perpetrators of terrorist operations and pressure on the PA government to comply with its commitments to fight terrorism. After the operation, the strategy was based on full neutralization of the PA and independent preventive operations by Israeli security forces.

However, a lot of collateral damage was also caused by the operation: the PA capacity to rule and deliver on law and order was completely destroyed. This had several primary ramifications.

On the political level, the operation destroyed the Palestinian partner for potential agreements and contributed to a deeply-rooted mistrust among the Israeli public regarding the feasibility of having such a partner. When Arafat was alive, the argument was that he was not a partner because of his bad intentions; he did not want peace with Israel. After his death there was no doubt concerning the peaceful intentions of his successor, but then the argument was that the PA had no security capabilities and only Israeli forces could take care of security in the West Bank.

At the same time, in areas under theoretical Palestinian control there emerged a chaotic situation of lawlessness in which armed gangs, private militias and criminals roamed and operated freely. They were tolerated by Israel as long as they did not target it. Palestinian citizens completely lost trust in the PA's leadership and political infrastructure. This was one of the main causes of the Hamas victory in the January 2006 elections.

It took many years and much assistance from the United States and European Union until the PA's security capabilities were rebuilt--and still Israelis do not trust their Palestinian partner.

More careful planning and execution of Operation Defensive Shield and its follow- ups, taking into account future political consequences, would apparently have led to better results. These would have comprised a better distinction between "friend and foe" and possibly more emphasis on devising ways to maintain a credible Palestinian partner for future political agreements.-Published 16/4/2012 ©

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv.