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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.

Articles in this edition
Why we are closing - Yossi Alpher
The arc of the pendulum - Ghassan Khatib
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 © bitterlemons.org

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