Vol. 4, No. 12 23 December 2004
Lessons of the Gaza Security Fence for the West Bank
Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog
As part of the implementation of Oslo, Israel gave up 80 percent of Gaza on May 18, 1994. When we talk about disengagement from Gaza, this means withdrawal from the remaining 20 percent of the area.
During my time as Commander of Southern Command in the years 2000-2003, there were more than 400 attempts by Palestinians to cross into Israel, all of which failed.
Together with rebuilding the fence, a key security element was the creation of a one-kilometer security buffer zone. In addition, we constructed high technology observation posts that enabled soldiers to monitor about six kilometers - day and night, and we provided the troops with new rules of engagement regarding anyone approaching this area.
We have stopped about 30 percent of hostile actions near the fence and 70 percent inside the territory through offensive actions. In addition to the fence, we must continue to gather intelligence throughout the territories in order to be able to intercept Palestinian terrorists.
As the fence prevented terrorists from leaving Gaza, they decided to change tactics - developing rockets and initiating focused attacks on Israeli settlements. When we finish the fence around the West Bank, the Palestinian terrorism model may change there as well and follow the same pattern.
A War that Targets Israel's Cities
Since September 2000, Israel has lost 1,020 people in the war against Palestinian terrorism. This is the first war where the price in civilian life is so high, and where most of those killed have been in our cities, in the heartland of Israel. The decision to build a security fence in the West Bank is, first of all, a security statement, a statement that the Israeli government will do all that is necessary in order to protect human life in Israel.
As a Gaza Strip division commander between 1994 and 1996, I was involved in building the fence separating Gaza from Israel. I was also present at the start of the implementation of the Oslo peace accords, and was the first Israeli commander to welcome Arafat on July 1, 1994, when he came to Gaza from Egypt.
As part of the implementation of Oslo, Israel gave up 80 percent of the Gaza Strip. Since May 18, 1994, a little before Arafat's arrival, Israeli troops have been deployed in only 20 percent of the Gaza Strip. So when we talk about disengagement from Gaza, this does not mean from the whole of the Gaza Strip, but only from the remaining 20 percent of the area.
Palestinians Dismantle the Fence
Israel built a 60-kilometer fence around the Gaza Strip shortly after the implementation of Oslo, and we lost most of it at the beginning of the latest intifada. The intifada began on September 28, 2000. By December, during my first tour of Gaza as Commander of Southern Command, I found that Palestinians had dismantled most of the fence. At the same time, the IDF was receiving between 10 and 30 intelligence alerts a day about terrorists seeking to cross into Israel in order to attack and murder Israelis, at first by planting detonation charges and later using suicide bombers.
During my time as Commander of Southern Command in the years 2000-2003, there were more than 400 attempts by Palestinians to cross the boundaries of the Gaza Strip, all of which failed. There are a number of key reasons for this:
Our first move was to rebuild the fence, which took six months from December 2000 to June 2001.
Together with the fence, a key security element was the creation of a one-kilometer security buffer zone. Sometimes there were orchards that allowed the terrorists to get within 50 meters of the fence without being spotted. The only way to face our intelligence alerts effectively was to remove the trees to allow clearer observation.
In addition, we constructed high technology observation posts that enabled soldiers to monitor about six kilometers - day and night, and we provided the troops with new rules of engagement regarding anyone approaching this area.
The experience gained by the IDF's Southern Command in the Gaza Strip is the basis for our efforts to implement the new fence in the West Bank. Geographically, the West Bank is different from the Gaza Strip, but from a professional perspective it presents the same problem, even though the West Bank is hilly and is ten times larger than Gaza.
We have stopped about 30 percent of hostile actions near the fence and 70 percent inside the territory through offensive actions. We await the formation of a strong Palestinian Authority that is willing to fight terrorism and dismantle the terrorist organizations inside the territories.
Rafiah on the Egyptian border is distinguished by tunneling. When I was Commander of Southern Command, the IDF destroyed more than 100 tunnels along the 4 kilometers of Rafiah. The smuggling phenomenon started with the implementation of the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord. One of the conditions set by President Sadat was cutting the town of Rafiah into two so that part of it would stay Egyptian and part would be under Israeli control. Since the border corridor there is extremely narrow, the reaction time for Israeli troops is very short. We use advanced technology to find and destroy the tunnels, but the problem still continues.
The establishment of a fence and the new technology around the Gaza Strip has also allowed us to monitor and photograph incidents, allowing the IDF to do what is known as an After-Action Review, to enable us to ask ourselves tough questions about the behavior of the soldiers and the commanders in the field.
Changing Terrorist Tactics
As the fence prevented terrorists from leaving Gaza, they decided to change tactics - developing rockets and the use of huge explosive charges inside the Gaza Strip. They also initiated focused attacks on Israeli settlements. When we finish building the fence around the West Bank, the Palestinian terrorism model may change there as well and follow the same pattern.
What we have learned from our experience in the Gaza Strip is that it is necessary to continue building the fence around the West Bank. In the first eleven months of 2004, there has been a sharp decline in terrorist successes, but not because they are not trying. Every month there are between five and thirty attempts to launch suicide bombers at the heart of Israel.
It is important that we also create a security buffer zone. If we allow the Palestinians to cultivate land up to the fence without such a buffer zone, we allow the terrorists a place from which they can launch future attacks. Finally, in addition to constructing the fence, we must continue to gather intelligence throughout the territories in order to be better able to intercept Palestinian terrorists attempting to kill Israelis.
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Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog is the former Commander of the IDF's Southern Command (2000-2003). Throughout his military career and during the course of four wars, Gen. Almog has gained extensive experience in combat and special clandestine operations in the ongoing war against terrorism. He participated in the Tripoli raid that targeted key terrorist leaders in February 1973, and in the Entebbe rescue operation in 1976. On October 4, 2003, Gen. Almog lost five members of his family in a Palestinian suicide bombing at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on November 29, 2004.
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