Gaza's test of stability: Settlers plan three-ring resistance to IDF, led by Yesha Council; Abbas faces HAMAS; settlements packe

The government officially ordered Jewish settlers to leave Gaza today, and thousands refused to budge. Within 48 hours the forcible removal of everyone who hasn't yet left will begin, and it's anybody's guess as to what will happen. The following looks at some of the intersecting tactical, religious and sociological problems for Israel, including the very real threat of rebellion within the Israeli Defense Forces. It's a long post, but damn, this situation is complicated.

Right now, a confrontation with eight distinct militant sides or command groupings is about to materialize, and I can only guess at how the complex operation will play out among these forces: the Gazan Palestinian Authority and its paramilitaries [in particular Dahlan's people]; HAMAS; smaller militant organizations; hardline settlers and the YESHA Council of Settlements [YESHA an acronym for Judea Samaria Gaza]; radical Jewish militants [Kach/Kahanists] and possibly rebel IDF units from hesder yeshivas; the national Israel Defense Forces; the Israeli police; the more passive [generally more secular] Gaza settlers. Prime spots for English updates across the spectrum include ynet (Yedioth Ahronoth), Haaretz, Arutz Sheva, Jerusalem Post, israelinsider, DEBKA, IMRA, WAFA, Palestine Post, Palestine Report (PMC), JMCC, Palestine Chronicle, Indymedia Israel (open wire).

Northern West Bank is a closed military zone. Haaretz: Gaza sealed as disengagement begins:

Israel Defense Forces troops sealed off the Gaza Strip at midnight Sunday, marking the start of the withdrawal, the first time Israel will pull out of land Palestinians want for a future state. Forty-eight hours later, soldiers will begin forcibly removing those settlers remaining in the settlements.

Israeli authorities set up roadblocks across southern Israel and cut off bus service to the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip on Sunday as they began final preparations to begin dismantling all 21 settlements inside Gaza.

As of Sunday, thousands of residents remained inside the settlements, vowing to resist their eviction. Other opponents of the pullout have threatened to hold massive demonstrations against the plan and to run the roadblock on the Gaza border to create chaos and torpedo the plan. Settler leaders were to lock the gates of some Gaza settlements Sunday to keep out the soldiers and police officers who are charged with handing out the eviction orders to residents.

In a parallel protest, dozens of police officers received telephone calls from people in the United States who identified themselves as members of the Chabad movement, asking the police to refuse to carry out evacuations, and to influence fellow officers to refuse, the radio reported. It said the police were outraged that their personal phone numbers were distributed to disengagement opponents abroad. [indicates rebellious forces are using key intelligence]

Harel is to command a force of more than 20,000 police and soldiers in the disengagement operation beginning this week. He turned aside media reports that soldiers at checkpoints had turned a blind eye to infiltrating protesters.

There are six tactical 'rings' of Israeli forces: "Yesha trying to foil pullout by keeping troops away from Gaza:"

Yesha Council settler leaders are instructing pullout opponents to drive in convoys to the Kissufim crossing, at the entrance to the Gaza Strip, and prevent security forces from reaching the settlements slated for evacuation.

[.....]The disengagement forces will be divided into six "rings." The first ring (combining both army and police) will deal with removing the settlers from their homes. The second ring, of Israel Defense Forces soldiers only, is charged with blocking the surrounding roads to prevent anti-withdrawal activists from reaching the settlement being evacuated. 

The third and fourth rings, all army, will defend both civilian and security forces from Palestinian attack. The fifth ring, mostly IDF soldiers, will patrol the Green Line to prevent activists from infiltrating the Strip from Israel. The sixth ring, consisting of police officers, will control traffic on Israeli roads in the western Negev near the Gaza border.

And there is another ring, which no one wants to discuss. It is the "zero ring," which will deal with any violent standoff situations that arise. Brigadier General Amos Ben-Avraham, who is the commander of the division unit for this force, avoids the cameras. Senior officers who were willing to talk about it hope it will not be needed, but they know that is an unreasonable expectation.

Kfar Darom is packed with protesters, ready to resist. A settler with 15 supporters announced the establishment of a 'Jewish Authority' in Gaza independent of Israel and has forthcoming 'tactical secrets.' Just another ranting guy, but the rebellious/seditious political current is firmly entrenched. An excellent interactive graphic on the New York Times site indicates along one block of Neve Dekalim, which started when I did (1983), the long-term residents of its first block are mostly planning to stay put until the soldiers come around, although some have shipping containers set up. "Gush Katif settlers to lock gates to stop IDF entering"(earlier today) but more secular northern Gaza settlements are mostly empty already. Plans of resistance:

In the more hard-line settlements, people are reportedly planning to lock their doors and windows and chain themselves to heavy objects. People are being advised to continue resisting even after they have been put aboard buses, and to damage the bus and even set it on fire in order to put it out of commission.

The YESHA Council is orchestrating an outer ring of settler resistance, with settlers operating two more inner rings of defense to impede and possibly battle the IDF:

Residents have been told by leaders to store as much dry food as possible. According to plans issued by the various struggle headquarters, there will be three rings of opposition. The outer ring, under the charge of the Yesha Council of settlers, is to block the main arteries leading to the Kissufim crossing with tens of thousands of activists, who will face thousands of police and soldiers.

The second group of activists intends to deploy between the settlements, and send as many people as possible to a settlement being evacuated. The headquarters of one organization, the National Home, has told members to bring wire-cutters to get through fences and move toward a settlement being evacuated, to avoid soldiers blocking the roads. "The goal is to create 20,000 fronts," a leaflet distributed in the Gush stated.

Inside the settlements, illegal residents and settlers will reportedly attempt to sabotage vehicles and block roads. Detailed recommendations on how to deal with mounted police were posted at synagogues, including a suggestion to inject horses with the atropine syringe that comes in the gas-mask kit issued to Israelis, which would lead to its death.

It seems to me that the leadership of Tanzim, HAMAS, Islamic Jihad & the other militant organizations has every incentive to keep things tamped down during the process, but HAMAS will probably try to prove its potency by firing a few rockets and mortars. The police are already blaming the army for the massive infiltrations:

A combination of two main factors led to the failure: the army's overly generous policy of issuing visitor passes that allowed thousands to enter, hundreds of whom had come to stay; and soldiers manning the roadblocks who were soft on enforcement. False documents, hiding in car trunks or pestering the soldiers until they gave in all took their toll. The large number of infiltrators raises suspicions that soldiers sympathetic to settler ideology looked the other way as people illegally crossed the roadblocks.

By the middle of last week, increasing numbers of containers stood next to homes, especially in the secular settlements. Still, there are impressive numbers still there: social pressure in the Gush, honed over four and a half years of rocket fire, will not buckle to the Disengagement Administration until the last minute. [....] Hard-core resistance is expected in Kfar Darom, parts of Neveh Dekalim, Kerem Atzmona, Shirat Hayam and possibly Morag, where the largest number of infiltrators has settled in.

The army is expected to react especially harshly to resistance from this quarter, possibly as early as tomorrow, and will apparently be spearheaded by a Border Police brigade. The troops will approach the protesters unarmed, but they will be followed by trucks with clubs. [......]A particularly worrisome scenario involves possible extremist action, with security around Prime Minister Ariel Sharon particularly tight. But one settler climbing on a roof in Neveh Dekalim and shooting at Khan Yunis is enough to start a chain reaction, which will mean a withdrawal under Palestinian fire.

As long as this does not happen, the unknown in the equation is the Palestinian side. With the prize so close, the Palestinians seem to be restraining the terror organizations. The IDF hopes this will be the chance for Mahmoud Abbas' government to prove it is serious about preventing terror.

Haaretz editorializes that the settlers are preparing for war with the IDF:

Entire yeshivas have recently moved to Gush Katif, openly, with a permit, because of the weakness of the army and police. [....] The settlers are not the enemy, and the army is not preparing for war against them, said the chief of staff without understanding that that this equation is true in only one direction. The army is not preparing for war against the settlers, but the settlers are preparing and how.

This is the approach that Gush Emunim used for years, with great success: tears and pleas for mercy on one hand, adherence to the goal and willingness to cut through fences on the other, all while cultivating the belief that they are right, whereas the evacuating forces are merely doing the dirty work.

This frighteningly empathetic approach has led to repeated failures against the settlers throughout the decades since Sebastia [in Sinai], and it is liable to do so this time as well. Too many meetings between commanders and evacuees, too much coordination and too many heart-to-heart talks have weakened the army and strengthened the settlers. Thus while hundreds of permanent residents of Gush Katif are preparing to leave quietly, they are being replaced by thousands of opponents of the evacuation for whom the IDF is the avowed enemy. [.....] President Moshe Katsav's request for the evacuees' forgiveness and his statement that he has been impressed by their struggle also demonstrates that so far, the settlers have the upper hand.

Also they editorialize, "Beware the zealots," connecting the escalating internal conflict with the baseless anger that destroyed the Second Temple:

Now, less than 60 years after the land was won by the small band of people who broke into dance after the UN vote and then went off to fight a war of survival, the young country is repeating the event that long ago sealed its fate: The destruction of the Second Temple was not only the ruin of the physical Temple in Jerusalem, it was also the ruin of the national home. The actual destruction was carried out by foreigners, but it was the blind zealots, saturated with a megalomaniacal hunger for power, who presumed to lead the tiny Jewish state on their own stubborn path, turning their back on political reality and speaking in the name of a single principle: religion, according to their interpretation.

The zealotry of those who destroyed the Temple and the national home sprouted from the fundamentalist flower beds of the religious hierarchy, which cloaked itself in eternal power in the name of a jealous God, deaf to the world and refusing all compromise. In the struggle over the image and existence of that Jewish state, the zealots bested the yearners for peace. The former chose suicide, slaughter and exile, and sealed the fate of the entire Jewish people. Much to our horror, the third Jewish commonwealth now faces a challenge which draws its inspiration from similar sources.

The location is identical, and the balance of power between the state and the international community is similar. Once again, the fragile sovereignty of a state fighting for survival can be perceived. Once again, a stubborn, irresponsible, megalomaniacal group of zealous rabbis has arisen, kicking indiscriminately at the sovereignty of the state and at the chances for a normal, just life within the family of nations, and threatening to bring down the house if it does not get its way.

At first glance, Israel seems to be dealing with a problem similar to that of the Western democracies, who are deporting the religious extremists who threaten their sovereignty. But these countries, whether Christian or secular, are fighting Islam, while Israel is attempting to make its way in the world while threatened from within by the zealous leaders of Judaism - the root of the nation from which the state itself sprouted.

Tisha B'Av this year is therefore a day of deep spiritual reckoning. In light of the historical lesson that it evokes, the Jewish State must steel itself for the struggle it now faces, for the sake of its sovereignty and to prevent a third destruction of its home.

IDF chief of staff estimates 5000 thousand rightwing protesters have infiltrated the settlements, many of them young fellow settlers raised in the West Bank and indoctrinated in radical yeshivas. It is hard to say how violent the more extreme settlers may become, possibly including attacking nearby Palestinians to provoke an escalation, as they reportedly attacked Palestinian officials in January.

Israeli security organizations consider some IDF units organized from Hesder yeshivas in the West Bank as possibly seditious and likely to obey radical rabbi leadership over military orders. "Hesder yeshivas under fire":

IDF commanders are worried about the possibility of receiving hesder yeshiva soldiers because they may refuse orders,” said the head of IDF Personnel Directorate, major general Elazar Stern. Stern was addressing ultra-Orthodox soldiers who had just been drafted into the army.

Times profile on the settlers:

The Gaza settlers are made up largely of middle-class families with children, and their resistance is expected to be mostly passive. Soldiers and police may have to drag them from their homes, but clashes are considered unlikely.

But some settlers could resist more actively. And the infiltrators, many of them deeply religious teenagers or young adults from the West Bank, are seen as wild cards and could be more aggressive in confronting the security forces. In the Rafiah Yam settlement in southern Gaza, a resident torched his house, a minibus and a warehouse, Reuters reported. "I don't want to leave anything for the Palestinians," the resident, Yaakov Mazal-Tari, said. "They do not deserve it. I'm going to burn everything, and what I can't burn I will destroy."

There have been a lot of protests near the Al Aqsa/Temple Mount site lately. Also there will only be about 8,000 police available in the entire rest of Israel, down from the normal level of 28,000. This means a lot of potential mischief from thieves and everyday criminals, fanatics who might go after the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa site or other holy sites. Another confrontation at the Temple site like this one (or this little one) between young Muslims and the Israeli police, possibly egged on by Jewish or Christian fundamentalists, could easily escalate, and hardcore settlers have a strong incentive to do so.

The social/class component should be considered, as this Times update today describes how people sought better quality of life thru incentives, trapping them in a war zone:

Many of Neve Dekalim's residents came from neighboring working-class towns in southern Israel, seeing the move here as a step up the economic and social ladder. Government financial incentives meant they could buy more affordable and larger homes than inside Israel. The move also allowed them to build a community of religious Jews.

The community grew into the main commercial and municipal center for Gaza settlers. It has a gas station, a grocery store, four synagogues, health clinics, two seminaries and several schools and day care centers. The settlement borders the Palestinian town of Khan Yunis, where scores of mortar shells have been launched at Neve Dekalim.

Further betraying the sense of suburban calm, a hulking cement wall separates Khan Yunis from Neve Dekalim. The settlement is ringed by electric fencing and guarded by soldiers. At a recent prayer rally, about 2,000 people prayed and sang, asking God to intervene to help halt the government's plan to evacuate their town along with the 20 other Jewish settlements in Gaza. The mood here swings between despair and the hope that an 11th-hour miracle might yet occur.

The leadership of hesder yeshivas, an integral element of West Bank settlement strategy, have inserted whole groups of radicalized young teenagers into the Israeli military as fully organized units. Zeev Schiff in Haaretz on the danger of yeshiva unit rebellion inside the IDF:

The problem is that over the years other rabbis-civilians-have acquired a status that enables them to intervene in purely military matters. At the same time, there is a growing influence of civilian rabbis on the actions of extremist settlers. For example, when the theft of olives from Palestinian farmers became widespread, there were rabbis who gave a "religious green light" for these criminal acts.

The infiltration of civilian rabbis into the IDF has been slow but steady. In the past, the settler leaders tried to influence the appointment of the head of Central Command, in whose territory most of the settlements are located. When they weren't happy with a head of Central Command, they tried to dictate to the defense minister when this commanding officer should not be invited to a joint meeting with them. Minister Moshe Arens was the one who rejected that demand.

The infiltration of the rabbis into the IDF has been carried out mainly by means of the hesder yeshivas (which combine Torah study and military service). There are 14 such yeshivas, and their students perform compulsory military service for a total of 16-18 months in all the rest of the time they study. For about two and a half years, their commanding officer is in effect the rabbi of the yeshiva. In addition, the rabbis of the hesder yeshivas established a "yeshiva committee" for themselves, which has been recognized by the IDF. The problem is that the committee is involved in making decisions such as which yeshiva should be recognized, who will be recognized as a yeshiva student, and where he will serve. This is not only intervention in the army on an organizational level it is also an attempt to determine its values.

This path has led to the phenomenon of refusal to serve. But even without the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, these rabbis are for the most part on a collision course with the military system. ..... The chief of staff and the rabbis are not in a situation where they have to conduct a dialogue. This dangerous phenomenon must be wiped out. Just as the generals should not interfere with what is happening in the rabbinical world, so the rabbis should not interfere with what is happening in the IDF. Had the opponents of the disengagement, which was approved by the Knesset, won their struggle, in the end we would have witnessed the rabbis' domination of the IDF agenda.

It's hard to say how the outcome of the withdrawal will be measured by the leadership of the eight forces above. The hardcore settlers and YESHA Council will find it a galvanizing event that will produce a more radicalized cadre of youngsters who will return to their West Bank settlements and redouble their efforts to prevent the Israeli people from withdrawing further. They will probably attack Palestinians in Hebron and near Tapuah, a hardcore settlement of neo-Kahanists outside Nablus in the northern West Bank. However, many less radical settlers would also like to 'cash out' of their entrapping West Bank mortgages like their Gaza brethren, and leaving Gaza will increase pressure to help West Bank moderate settlers finance their departure.

The Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli Border Police will finally be relieved of the onerous task of defending pointless irregular settlement positions under constant Palestinian bombardment, a key reason that Israel's settlement policy is detrimental to its security, as a former Meretz MK Prof. Galia Golan once explained to me. However this means they could be more free to conduct scorched-earth Defensive Shield type operations, while bulldozing new swaths around West Bank settlements such as Ariel and Maale Adumim, that Sharon has promised to hang on to (in keeping with his long-term implementation of the 'Allon Plan,' nearby the Orwellian 'separation' fence line - please look at fence satellite images for cognitive dissonance between geography and morality)

The Likud party is probably going to splinter in some way, with Netanyahu challenging Sharon. Polls show that Netanyahu has the advantage in a primary over Sharon, but a "big bang" realignment, with Sharon leading a bloc combined with Josef Lapid of the secular centrist Shinui Party and Shimon Peres of Labor could take a commanding swath of the Knesset, strongly defeating a Likud led by Netanyahu.

The PA and HAMAS are competing to claim credit for the Israeli move, like any other politicians would. The people at DEBKA are claiming that Al-Qaeda style militants will move into Gaza (take them with a grain of salt) and also, if Lebanon is truly demilitarized the militants based there might shift into Gaza. HAMAS would dearly like to turn settlement sites into their own enclaves, but wealthy Gulf Arabs also want to put together large development projects.

I'd like to wish the Palestinians and Israelis with the best of luck in crushing the wills of their violent and recalcitrant internal rivals, in the hopes that this withdrawal can stabilize and eventually reverse the complex and violent process of the Israeli occupation and gradual annexation of the Palestinian occupied territories. It's one hell of a brave step, without a peace treaty. It's too important to fail.

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