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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Why Arafat Went to War: The Wrong Lessons from Lebanon and Kosovo

Filed under: Israeli Security, Palestinians
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 2, No. 1     June 19, 2002

When Yasser Arafat unleashed terrorist violence against Israel in September 2000, he was applying mistaken lessons from the conflicts in Lebanon and Kosovo, according to Brig. Gen. Eival Gilady, speaking at the inaugural lecture of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on May 27, 2002.

Gilady, head of the IDF’s Strategic Planning Branch, explained that prior to Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, Arafat witnessed Israeli reactions to the average loss of 25 IDF soldiers annually. Arafat saw a strong movement arise in Israeli society that applied effective pressure on the nation’s decision-makers and asked them some very tough questions: “What are we doing there? Why should we pay that price? Twenty-five soldiers a year? Can’t we defend ourselves from the international border?”

Arafat thought to himself, “Twenty-five soldiers a year? That’s easy. I can give them 250 deaths a year. If I can provide a large enough number of casualties, Israeli society will ask the same tough questions: ‘What are we doing in the West Bank? Why can’t we pull out of there? Why stay in the Gaza Strip?'” Arafat thought he could achieve much more this way than at the negotiating table.

In Kosovo, Arafat saw a small minority of Moslems, the Albanians (attacked by Serbs), bring in the whole world to intervene — not only politically but also militarily. Arafat’s plan was to create a large number of casualties among the Israeli people in order to achieve the required pressure on the decision-makers, on the one hand, and on the other, to provoke Israel to respond excessively, so that there would be enough casualties on the Palestinian side to force the world to intervene.


Israel’s Restrained Response

Arafat’s strategy led to an Israeli counterstrategy of restraint. “We understood that we needed not only to minimize the number of casualties on our side, but that it was very important that we minimize the number of casualties on the Palestinian side as well. So the IDF adopted an overt strategy of very strong restraint, much more defense than offense. We sought to do everything possible to minimize the number of casualties not only on our side but also on the other side.”

All of the Palestinian terrorist organizations are involved in attacks against Israel. Arafat’s Fatah organization is responsible for 42 percent of the attacks; Hamas 39 percent; Palestinian Islamic Jihad 9 percent; and the PFLP 3 percent. Most of the terror activities carried out in the last few months, not just in the last few weeks, are being carried out by Fatah, and we expect a lot more in the way of results from the Palestinian Authority in stopping terrorism than we have been getting.”


The Karine-A Weapons Ship

The Palestinian Authority’s arms procurement operation that culminated in the capture of the Karine-A in early January 2002 actually began in May 2001. After the September 11 attack, the Palestinian Authority must have asked itself whether to continue the smuggling operation, and a decision was taken to do so. “While the entire world focused on terrorism and tried to understand what should and should not be done, what are legal and what are illegal weapons, the Karine-A operation continued.”

The Karine-A affair also uncovered the involvement of the Iranians in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. “The Iranians wanted to gain a foothold in Israel. Today they can threaten the northern part of Israel through the Hizballah, from Lebanon.” Providing katyusha rockets to the Palestinians would mean that most of Israel’s population centers would be within range of terrorist weapons. “Just imagine millions of people in Tel Aviv or Netanya or Hadera or Beer Sheva living in shelters, not being able to send their kids to school or go to work.”


Operation Defensive Shield

Terrorists killed 130 Israelis in March. “We have understood for a very long time that the Palestinian Authority was allowing terror. At a certain point we understood that they encouraged terror. At a certain point we understood that they funded terror. At a certain point we understood that they were very deeply involved in terror. After Operation Defensive Shield, we found evidence that the highest level — the chairman of the Palestinian Authority — was personally involved in supporting, funding, encouraging, and knowing of terrorist actions against us.

“Every day in March we received 8 to 10 warnings of planned attacks against Israel. We were able to prevent 80-90 percent, but some succeeded, and we suffered: 15 people killed in a restaurant, 29 killed on Passover, another 15 in another restaurant, seven on the street, five in a shopping mall. The situation was impossible. We had to launch Operation Defensive Shield.”


The Fighting in Jenin

In some areas in Jenin every house had explosive booby-traps. When the Palestinian security officials were asked when their forces had last entered the Jenin refugee camp, the answer was, “Never.”

Terrorist attacks originating in Jenin killed 93 Israelis and wounded over 640 during the last 18 months. In the Jenin fighting, 52 Palestinians — mostly combatants — were killed and 23 Israeli soldiers lost their lives. “Is this a massacre?” Gilady asked. “Let me tell you what I think is a massacre. When someone goes into a restaurant, and he is the only one armed and no one there has any intention to do him harm, and he blows himself up, that is a massacre. When he comes to a disco full of teenagers and he blows himself up, that is a massacre.”

“In Jenin we did whatever we could to get all the civilians out. There is no military force that would have operated in an urban area the way we did. There were no air force strikes or artillery bombardment. Infantrymen went door-to-door, house-to-house, doing whatever they could to get the civilians out.”

Other armies would have used artillery. The reason why we did not was not because there was outside pressure or because of world public opinion. It is because of Israeli norms and values. The Israel Defense Forces will never put itself in the position of doing something that Israeli society will not accept.”

In fact, the IDF combined its military operation in Jenin with a “huge humanitarian operation. We pushed more food trucks into Jenin than usually reach the city each month in order to be sure that there was no hunger. We brought oxygen and generators to the local hospital. We offered blood, but they didn’t want our blood, so we allowed our colleagues, the Jordanians, to fly in blood. When three of their ambulances were damaged by our tanks, we provided three new ambulances. They didn’t want them. It was much more important to accuse us on television than to get three new ambulances.”