Editor’s Notes: Expect the unexpected

By David Horovitz June 10, 2005

The IDF has for months been compiling exhaustive databases on each and every Gaza Jewish family – information to enable the evacuating IDF team leader to build a rapport with the family members, or to enable that team to speedily remove them

It is a testament to the public’s sliding perception of its own army over the years that few people have been floating an idea that would have been axiomatic a generation ago – the notion that the IDF will opt for a dramatic, out of the box approach to operation disengagement.

Before it was forced, in the late 1980s and the past five years, to adjust to urban conflict and to countering terrorism hatched in crowded neighborhoods in the West Bank and Gaza – a battlefield for which it had not been trained – the IDF’s facility for innovation was a wonder of the military world. Its strategic planners and tactical thinkers were routinely expected to conceive the near- impossible and proved almost routinely capable of achieving it.

This is the IDF that sent fighter jets far beyond their assessed maximal capability to destroy Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. This is the IDF whose commandos killed off top PLO commanders by infiltrating into central Beirut from the sea under cover of darkness in 1973, with key operatives dressed up in women’s clothing to complete the subterfuge. This is the IDF that in 1976 rescued a hundred hostages from under the guns of PLO and Baader-Meinhof terrorists at Entebbe airport, in an 8,000 kilometer round-trip commando raid – flying in with a spray-painted black Mercedes limousine so that Ugandan airport troops would assume Idi Amin was heading their way – an operation so daring and improbable that its targets never dreamed they could possibly be so vulnerable.

Officially, today’s IDF top brass are playing it ramrod straight – asserting that there will no surprises when the summer’s day arrives for resistant settlers to be ousted from their homes in Gaza and northern Samaria. In Thursday’s Jerusalem Post, Capt. Tal Peled, the psychological consultant to one of the IDF divisions involved in the planned pullout, noted that ‘the goal takes precedence over the mission, and the goal here is that there not be any schism in the nation.’

And so, the Post’s defense correspondent Arieh O’Sullivan reported, there will be no clattering helicopters blaring demoralizing music, no soldiers dressed up as happy settlers contentedly leaving their homes – no psychological warfare, no deceptions.

A political decision has been taken and, says the new chief of General Staff, Dan Halutz, the IDF will implement it ‘with the utmost sensitivity but with the required resolve.’

Word is that a limited number of officers and specially trained troops will do the talking to the reluctant departees, and that members of the IDF’s most prestigious units will be with them at the front doors, turned out in their best dress uniforms, no weapons in hand, to facilitate the departure.

The media have been invited to observe training operations for unpleasant scenarios, including rehearsals in which female soldiers are seen leading their male colleagues up onto rooftops to evacuate soldiers playacting as settlers and staging hand-in-hand sit-ins.

Behind-the-scenes, the IDF is coordinating with the media on the practicalities of covering disengagement, earnestly asserting its desire to at once enable the open coverage essential to a democracy, while ensuring the safety of all involved in what will, after all, be the kind of situation in which events might easily spiral out of control.

However long it takes, officers from Halutz on down are indicating, this complex and traumatic operation will be achieved by that front-door approach; if cooperation is not forthcoming, settlers will be dragged away house by house, day by day, week by week, if necessary.

But will the IDF really walk the obvious path and invite maximal resistance? Will it take the course most likely to prolong the evacuation – when that will enable disengagement’s opponents to regroup day after day, and render the operation supremely vulnerable to Palestinian terrorist attack? Will the IDF eschew the very innovation and creative thinking on which it earned its reputation?

Its intelligence units – the key to all successful military operations – have for months been compiling exhaustive databases on each and every Gaza Jewish home: not merely how many people sleep in which building on what street, but the names of family members, which bedrooms which kids sleep in, whether any family members are handicapped, even what pets they have. Information to enable the evacuating IDF team leader to build a rapport with the family members, or to enable that team to speedily remove them.

Its years of reluctant intifada warfare have gradually taught the IDF more than it would ever have wished to know about the complexities of operating in residential neighborhoods, among uncooperative civilians.

And the IDF has always maintained elite hierarchies and units of brilliant, creative thinkers, employed precisely to outwit the other side. That flair and innovation has been central to Israel’s prevailing in major regional war after war, and to successes in innumerable smaller theaters of conflict.

So for all the assertions of no deceptions and no surprises, it is hard to conceive that these innovative thinkers are not an integral part of the IDF’s planning for disengagement, their suggestions central to the process that is set to unfold this summer. And that while some ideas may indeed have been ruled out as too controversial, as unthinkable when the target group is part of your own people, others must surely have been integrated into the planning.

It’s a two-way street, of course. You can bet that those most determined to thwart disengagement have their own aces up their sleeves, or think they do. And that the IDF has been gathering intelligence on those activists’ plans. And that the activists, in turn, are trying to stay one step ahead of the IDF, with all the mutual effort this involves at penetrating decision-making circles.

WHAT MIGHT the army have in mind? Well, the most basic military strategies posit success on catching the other side off-guard. That means that the IDF will want to determine the timing of its first steps to its maximal advantage, perhaps choosing to operate before the anti- disengagement camp believes likely. We’ve heard much talk of that disengagement delay mandated by the three-week period leading up to Tisha Be’av in mid-August, but the original official deadline for leaving Gaza has not formally been changed from late July.

The IDF will presumably want to throw up smokescreens about where it intends to begin disengagement – to have opponents massing at one site while it goes into action at another. It is assumed, for instance, that the first settlements to be dismantled will be the northern Gaza trio of Nisanit, Dugit and Elei Sinai. Well, maybe.

Then again, perhaps the IDF will seek to carry out the pullout at an enormously accelerated pace, sending huge concentrations of troops to many settlements on day one, aiming to complete disengagement not in the three or more weeks so publicly discussed, but in days.

On the other hand, there are those who suggest that a prolonged pullout is perceived by the government to serve the wider Israeli interest, underlining to a watching world the immense wrench involved in disengagement, and so boosting sympathy and support. And that sufficient military resources are being allocated to combat an upsurge in Palestinian terrorism that might otherwise threaten an extended pullout.

Will the IDF send in elite troops, unarmed, in the middle of the night, to pluck settlers from their beds and oust them from Gaza by sea or air, their personal effects to follow at a more leisurely pace afterwards? That would almost certainly be deemed a crossing of lines, untenable behavior toward Israeli citizens, and explicit assurances have been given that this will not happen. But sea and air transport of some kind seems a tempting option given the practicalities of ground transport in Gaza, with its single narrow main thoroughfare.

You’d assume that the ‘Screamer’ acoustic cannon, unveiled by the IDF to such effect in dispersing anti- security-barrier protesters near Jerusalem on June 3, would be off-limits, along with other weapons and tactics designed to foster disorientation and panic in order to expedite the pullout. An intriguing coincidence, though – the Screamer being unveiled on the eve of disengagement.

The only certainty: expect the unexpected. And that includes developments beyond Israel’s control that make a mockery of the best-laid plans, such as the so-rapid collapse of the South Lebanon Army that turned elaborate planning for a more measured pullback from the security zone into the run-for-the-border two-day sprint in May 2000.

Oh, and expect the unexpected politically, too, among those who believe the government can yet be thwarted.

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