From the Karine A toTulkarm
by Jonathan Rosenblum
January 25, 2002
Much of the coverage of Israel's dramatic seizure of the Karine A focused on the potential new threats posed by the ship's lethal cargo. Katyusha rockets capable of hitting Israel's major coastal cities are not to be taken lightly. Nor can there be much doubt that the high-grade C4 explosives - several times more powerful than those currently relied upon by suicide bombers - would have been employed within a short period of time.
Yet the real significance of the weaponry being amassed by the Palestinian Authority does not lie so much in its immediate impact on the balance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians are unlikely to employ Katyushas against Ashdod and Ashkelon just to up the ante of terrorism. They know well that no action would be so likely to rouse the sleeping giant as a missile attack on a Israeli major city.
As long as PA Chairman Yasser Arafat still prefers Ramallah to Tunis, and this world to the undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns, that is one step he is almost sure to avoid.
The real threat posed by much of the seized weaponry - in particular the anti-tank weapons and mines - lies in their utility in the event of an all-out war.
Knesset member Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset subcommittee on defense planning and policy, has frequently noted the fallacy of comparing the respective military capacities of the IDF and the PA when assessing the threat to Israel's existence posed by the PA. In a one-on-one military confrontation, Israel's vast superiority is clear. In an all-out confrontation with all the surrounding Arab states at once, however, the Palestinians could play a decisive role, Steinitz argues.
Israel's greatest points of vulnerability from a military point of view are its small population and lack of strategic depth.
That small population has two major consequences. First, Israel confronts much larger standing armies - Egypt alone has a standing army of nearly 450,000. Second, that small population renders Israel ill-equipped to weather a prolonged, multi-front conflict.
To counter our neighbor's larger standing armies, Israeli defense planners have traditionally relied on a rapid mobilization of reserves. And to ensure that we will not be drawn into a long war fought near our major population centers, Israeli defense strategy calls for the rapid establishment of air superiority. That air superiority allows Israel to take the attack to enemy territory and away from Israel's narrow waistline.
The existence of more than 40,000 trained and armed members in the various Palestinian militias, as opposed to the several thousand contemplated by the Oslo Accords, casts a large shadow of doubt over both prongs of that military strategy.
THE TASK of the Palestinian military, in the event of a full-scale war, would be to wreak havoc with Israel's mobilization. Given the Palestinians' close proximity to crucial Israeli highways over which mobilization would take place, the number of trained fighters who could be employed in small attack teams of 10-20, and the types of weapons they have been busy acquiring, the potential for a massive disruption of mobilization efforts cannot be dismissed.
The types of arms carried by the Karine A would be the most deadly precisely in this scenario. Rocket-propelled grenades in the hands of Palestinians would be potent against unarmed reservists rushing in private vehicles to mobilization centers. Other groups of terrorists targeting civilian populations or strategic sites could also divert valuable military resources in the early stages of a war. Palestinian guerilla bands might also seek to prevent Israel from getting its aircraft into action and establishing air superiority by laying siege to Israeli air bases with surface-to-air missiles and mortars.
Of course, this worst-case scenario would only come into play in the event of a full-scale war involving Egypt and other Arab countries.
There are good reasons to believe that Egypt is in no hurry for such a confrontation with Israel. Chief among them is Egypt's almost total reliance on American armaments, which would be cut off if employed against Israel.
At the same time, the Yom Kippur War stands as an ongoing warning against the danger of believing that our enemies would never dare attack us. In the nearly quarter century since the signing of formal peace treaties with Israel, Egypt has maintained the most frigid of relations. The state-controlled press continues to whip up hatred of Israel and Jews on a daily basis, and all professional societies have banned contact with Israelis. President Hosni Mubarak has on many occasions, including at Camp David, pressured Arafat to resist any compromise with Israel.
With its $2 billion in annual aid from the United States, Egypt has acquired some of the world's most sophisticated weapons systems, many of them the equal of those furnished to Israel. Recent reports have Egypt receiving 53 Harpoon-2 sea-to-sea missiles and four missile boats to carry them - weapons that even Israel does not possess. The huge and powerful Egyptian army has only one neighbor against whom this vast power could ever be conceivably directed: Israel.
Even as it arms itself to the teeth, Egypt suffers from one of the world's fastest growing populations, a stagnant economy and escalating Islamic fanaticism - an explosive combination. One can imagine a situation in which the Egyptian regime decided to divert the steam building up against it through a military confrontation with the hated Israel.
In short, Israel cannot assume that neighboring Arab states will never risk another war.
Nor can it overlook the threat posed by the arms already in the Palestinians' possession and those that they are continually seeking to acquire in the event of such a war.
The IDF's entrance this week into Tulkarm was primarily aimed at rounding up wanted terrorists. The house-to-house searches conducted by the IDF before withdrawing, however, offer a possible model for similar actions throughout PA-controlled areas designed to uncover Palestinian arms caches.
Finding and removing those arms is a matter of life and death.
Related Topics: Peace Process
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