|Protection and Defense|
|By Roland S. Süssmann|
At a simple, sober and warm ceremony on 15 July 2004 at the offices of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Major General DAN HALUTZ, born in Tel-Aviv and now aged 55, previous commander of the Israel Air Force, was promoted to Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The Editorial Board of SHALOM is proud to offer its readers the first interview that Major General Dan Halutz has given to a non-Israeli newspaper, less than three weeks after taking up his new position.
It is the first time in the history of the young state that a man from the Air Force has got this job, which indicates the type of fighting Israel has today and most especially the key role that air power plays in Israel’s defense. The army does not rule out the possibility that the next defensive war will be fought on a battlefield far from its borders. In that case, the IDF will be able to count on a man who can command, even at great distances, very large forces, including jets, helicopters and transport planes for light airborne divisions. Dan Halutz joined the Air Force in 1966, and headed it from April 2000. During the Six Day War he was still in training, but during the War of Attrition fought by Egypt against Israel, he distinguished himself in several actions, commanding the new F-4. Curiously, in 1973, Dan Halutz decided to take leave from the military to study, but the Yom Kippur War very quickly called him back to the colors. He took part in 43 combat sorties and decided to make his career in uniform. However, four years later, he again left the forces to work for a time in real estate. Yet again war made him rejoin the armed forces, this time for Operation Peace in Galilee in 1982 in Lebanon. Over time he flew various types of plane, including the last version of the famous F-16, and he learned to handle the most sophisticated defense systems. Dan Halutz commanded the Hatzor air base, and in 1988 he was appointed to the General Staff. As commander of the Air Force, Dan Halutz made sure he flew at least once a week, piloting either a jet or a helicopter. To date he has clocked up over 4,500 flying hours. Some say that when he gets a plane’s controls in his hands, he sings at the top of his voice… Dan Halutz is married and the father of two sons and a daughter.
The new Nr. 2 in the armed forces received us in his office at Headquarters for a one-hour analysis of the issue of terrorism, of which the main points are reported here.
In a few words, could you describe for us the current situation that Israel faces on the Arab terror front?
For me, it is easier to fight terrorism than to talk about it. To explain it, we must recall the roots of terrorism and in particular the nature of Islamic terror. We are not facing something new, because it started 120 years ago when the World Zionist Movement took the basic and dramatic decision to re-establish a national home for the Jewish people in Israel. Ever since the first Jews settled in the Land of Israel, terrorism started. It was not very organized, but nonetheless murderous and capable of causing harm. For my part, when I consider the history of terrorism I cannot ignore the fact that in 1929, 1936 and 1939 we had serious outbreaks of terrorism. Just prior to and following the declaration of the State, there was a highly organized terrorist campaign directed against the Jewish population. Ever since, the neighboring Arab states have conducted a fight without let up against Israel’s existence in the Middle East as an independent Jewish State, though terror was not a daily occurrence. The wars were the concentrated expression of uninterrupted conflict. However, in 1967 we could see this phenomenon from a different point of view. That was the first time that terrorism from the territories was under our control. No government could be held responsible for its actions, even though at the beginning they were supported by certain countries. As time passed we realized that this internal terrorism was increasing and the first explosion took place in 1987, lasting until 1991, the time of the first Gulf War. The second wave of terrorism started in September 2000 and continues until today.
Do you believe it will soon end?
Absolutely not, and for the time being I cannot say that we foresee an early end. It is true that we are witnessing a considerable drop in the number of successes our enemies have had. But before analyzing the different aspects of what has happened over the last four years, I would like to recall a certain number of facts. Until the famous 9/11, we were considered to bear “more responsibility than the others”, for all terror that occurred in our region. The 9/11 drama showed those who had not understood, that terror was a worldwide phenomenon and not just a problem that concerned Jews and Israelis. It was the first time a large-scale act of terrorism had been carried out outside of Israel, and following the attack the Americans took the strategic decision to combat terrorism actively. I must also say that when we look at terrorism from the Israeli point of view, we see three circles of terror: local, directed by Palestinian organizations against Israelis; regional, emanating from neighboring countries and in particular our northern front with Hizbullah, which gets direct support from Lebanon, Syria and Iran; and lastly, international terrorism, that does not only affect us, but also Europe, in particular Spain and Turkey, the USA, the Far East, especially Indonesia and the Philippines, as well as many other places that have nothing to do with the local conflict that we face daily. This terror, masterminded by Al Qaeda and by the Islamic Jihad movements targets every aspect of western culture. I would say that this is a problem that affects the entire world and especially the Europeans, who up till now have not yet accepted and recognized this fact. But it’s just a question of time, the situation will force them to face up to terrorism.
Even though Israel is involved in combating all three levels, it is above all the first circle that represents the priority in your daily struggle. Could you in a few words provide us with a brief analysis of the situation?
Four years ago, when the violence broke like a summer storm, we went through a radical change compared to the periods of relative calm that had preceded it. This does not mean we were taken by surprise, as we were prepared for that sort of situation, having determined that it was a possible scenario. It should not be forgotten that we were in permanent negotiation with the Palestinian Authority to find a solution. The Israeli government had also made an extremely generous offer to the Palestinians, based on the Oslo Accords. We thought that everything was going ahead properly, and that at the end we would be able sign an agreement that satisfied everyone. Unfortunately, these fine hopes blew up in our faces. The Palestinian Authority’s leadership decided to try to obtain even more by using terror against us. I must also emphasize that this step was taken by the Palestinians, having observed our precipitate withdrawal from Lebanon, which was wrongly interpreted as being a sign of weakness on our part. They thought that the fact that we had left Lebanon meant that we would not be prepared to fight, if that proved necessary to protect our population and our homes. If we were not actually taken by surprise, we did not expect that this would develop into something so big. The results that we can now see reflect the changes we lived through during the last four years. Firstly, we developed our operational capabilities, reinforced our right to attack and understood the limits of power. There can be no doubt that in respect of the armed forces, the IDF is clearly superior to its enemies. But in this type of conflict, the question is to know what kind of force can be employed and in particular when it should be employed. 9/11 clearly reinforced the legitimacy of our struggle, particularly in the eyes of the Americans, who had directly suffered very serious terrorist attacks. So it was that some of our initiatives, which we attempted to explain before that fateful date, were either simply not understood or only understood with great difficulty. For the time being that is no longer the case. Unfortunately, the Europeans always have problems understanding and accepting our position. I say unfortunately, because I find it hard to see how it is possible to not recognize that terrorism is bad. From time to time I have the impression that the terror waged against us enjoys the informal moral and intellectual support of European countries, which do not understand what it means to provide support, however small, to terrorist organizations. They do not realize that the terrorists they support today may decide from one day to the next to turn against them. It is not because these countries help certain terrorist organizations that they are sheltered from a radical change of attitude on their part. The decisions are in the hands of the terrorists. It is wrong to believe that by giving them direct or indirect support, that a nation will not be subject to the same treatment as all the others the day the terrorists decide it is in their interest to unleash a wave of terror in one or other of the countries that had supported them for years.
You have told us that over the last four years, the fight against terrorism in Israel has undergone certain changes. What exactly?
We have in fact lived through different periods. Firstly there was a sort of “popular insurrection”, in which quite a lot of armed civilians took part directly in the clashes. Not surprisingly, they suffered many losses. Then we went through a change of strategy and were inflicted with attacks by human bombs, which to a degree represented a new phenomenon. We noted that it was not soldiers but Israeli civilians who were the targets specified by the Palestinian leadership. Each of us has these horrible scenes seared into his memory; I want to remind you that these terrorists each time decided to strike where they could inflict the most damage and murder the most Jews, irrespective whether it was men, women, children or the elderly. The turning point was in March 2002, when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Park Hotel in Netanya, slaughtering 29 Israelis, who were celebrating the Passover Seder, and wounding many more. It was after this that we decided to go into the territory run by the Palestinian Authority, and ever since we have not left these places, where we have taken over control. From that time on, there was a new development in our ability to control and reduce the level and frequency of terror. This did not take place overnight, but took a year, and we progressively managed to control the situation as a function of our decisions and our criteria for action. At the same time we reorganized our forces to make them more efficient. We achieved better coordination between the various services, between the air force and the ground forces, between the various security agencies and the combat units. This coordination allowed us to greatly reduce the terrorists’ room for maneuver. Right at the beginning, we put ourselves right at the heart of their centers, which today are Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Tulkarem and in all the most vital points in Judea and Samaria. I will deal just with these two areas for the time being, since Gaza represents a subject in its own right. Our presence in Judea and Samaria, not just in the Arab towns but also in the villages and between the populated areas, allows us to act very quickly. We can observe and control their movements. As far as intelligence is concerned, we have managed to infiltrate at every level, with the development of special technologies. Without wishing to show off, I can state that today there is no other force in the world in the fight against terrorism that has access to the amount and level of information that we are receiving all the time. We currently control the situation on the ground and in the air.
In the light of this situation, is the security barrier really useful?
Do you know what is the difference between a fence and a wall? A fence lets you see what is going on the other side. Our barrier has many more open sections than concrete ones, and fulfills its role admirably. However, it should be realized that it is not an isolated, stand-alone item, but is part of an overall defense concept. This means that together with our complete control on the ground, as I have just described to you, we also block the terrorists by preventing them reaching Israel and its population centers. We can only act this way by creating a major obstacle, which is the famous fence. Till now this has proven itself extremely effective, and the numbers show that there has been a real reduction in the number of victims on the Israeli side. And this fence has another positive side to it. For the reduction in victims on our side automatically reduces the number of Arab victims, because these are directly connected. Unfortunately, a part of the international community thinks that it is the Palestinian leadership that has decided to reduce the level of violence against us. But that’s not so, the new situation is entirely due to the success of the actions undertaken by Israel. Our enemy’s motivation is always very high, but our strategy of hunting down the leaders of the terror groups has paid off. Our objective is to massively decapitate their leadership, so that they will have enormous difficulties creating a new leadership. It is well known that when you knock out the leader, the Number Two has neither the same abilities nor the same experience as Number One. By acting like this we considerably reduce the ability of the enemy to inflict terror on us. But the fact that we are knocking out the leaders at the highest level, then at the second, the third and the fourth levels, does not mean that the enemy has lost its wherewithal, just that they have less success because we are fighting them at the same time at different levels. First we eliminate the terrorists individually, then we destroy their infrastructure, and we attack those that support them as well as their finance conduits.
Still talking about the security fence, the route has recently been changed by the High Court of Justice. Do you believe the new route will be as effective as the old one?
Please remember that the barrier has only a security function and no political role. Its purpose is to increase the security of every Israeli, who we are charged with defending, wherever he or she may live in Israel. The Israel government has given us a complete free hand to build this fence according to our professional requirements. What you call the new route is in fact a certain number of changes that take into account humanitarian facts on the ground in a slightly more direct manner. But at the purely security level, its effectiveness is not affected.
It is amazing that having been faced for four years by an army like yours, which has the means of which you have spoken and which has implemented a remarkable strategy for fighting terrorism, the Arab terrorist organizations have not given up and continue to harass the Israeli population, certainly at a lower level, but nonetheless constantly. How do you perceive this phenomenon?
Their motivation is kept up by two things: ideology and money. Ideology by itself has a very short shelf life if funds run out. We must therefore cut off their financial resources, which is not too easy. By the way, this is something that can be carried out by many countries around the world, without us being involved. Regrettably, too many countries have not yet grasped (voluntarily or involuntarily) the importance of terminating the financial support provided to terrorist organizations. I do not think that this is essential only for us, but for everyone in the international fight against terrorism. As far as ideology goes, in order to look for or find solutions, the roots of the conflict must be understood. I would recall that our dispute covers four main points: land, Jerusalem, the “right of return of Arab refugees” and a permanent end to the conflict. In respect of the “right of return”, I believe that no Israeli government would be prepared to accept this request or even to discuss the issue. It would be suicidal, because a step like that would lead directly to an Arab flood, which cannot of course come into question. As far as the territorial question and Jerusalem are concerned, in July 2000 the government of Israel made an enormously generous offer, which was rejected by the Arabs. If one day, during negotiations, these questions reappear on the agenda, it is impossible to predict what would then happen. But our ultimate target is to put a permanent end to the conflict. It is on this crucial issue that progress on the three points I mentioned depends. It will be something very difficult to achieve, but it should not be lost sight of. In addition, to arrive at a final agreement, there must be some cohesion among the different players in the same camp. However, currently among the Arab leadership there is no agreement, each one addressing his own constituency, his own interests and ideology. The Hamas want to throw us into the sea, and the Palestinian Authority, the official representative of the Palestinians, says it is prepared to make compromises, but what they are remains a mystery.
Before talking about ending the conflict, could you say a few words about security developments if ever the Prime Minister’s unilateral withdrawal plan takes place?
Firstly, I want to stress that until such time as we receive an order to the contrary from the Israel government, we are obliged to protect and defend the Israeli citizens who live in Gush Katif, without any restrictions. The idea of disengagement in this area does not mean to abandon it militarily, but to control it from outside and to let the Palestinians take control of their own affairs. I think this is more easily said than done. At the technical and national level, it means relocating several thousand Israelis, redeploying our forces and maintaining security from outside. This in no way means that we will give up and reduce our efforts in the fight against terrorism; we will continue to hunt down the leaders of terror with all the vigor and all the means that we use today. When and if we withdraw, we shall not abandon the area to terrorist organizations who could act as they please to launch new attacks against Israel. The idea of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza is not to encourage but to reduce terrorism. As the army of the State of Israel, we carry out the decisions taken democratically.
Even if that means fighting Jews?
I do not think that Jews will have to fight Jews, and would like to think that we will never reach such a pass. In Israel, every Jew knows that any form of dispute between us can only strengthen our enemies. To sum up, we are a democracy and there are many ways for citizens to legally fight government decisions with which they do not agree. But in the final analysis, the laws must be enforced, and it is up to us, the army, to make sure they are indeed carried out, even if it involves a painful process.
You have mentioned Israel’s northern border. Is it true that Hizbullah has rockets that can reach Haifa and all the other towns in the Galilee?
Hizbullah is a terrorist group waging war on Israel on behalf of Syria and Iran. It attempts to spread terror among the civilian population that lives in the North of Israel by threatening it all the time. Up till now Hizbullah has succeeded in obtaining ground-to-ground rockets that could strike at medium and long distance many places in Israel. As far as Hizbullah is concerned, I believe we have a major fight ahead of us. The fact that this organization operates out of Lebanon constitutes above all a danger for that country, which we hold responsible for every terrorist act launched against Israel from its territory. Lebanon is an independent country that has the means to control what happens there. If it doe not do so, it will have to pay the price for its weakness. What is true for Lebanon is true for Syria.
What do you think of the involvement of Israeli Arabs in acts of terror against Jews?
These are Israeli citizens who enjoy all the rights and are subject to the same laws as all the other inhabitants of our country. Having said that, there are among them those who have thrown themselves into the terror against us, and we will fight them like all the other terrorists. But I think it is wrong to see in each Israeli Arab a potential terrorist or collaborator, because that simply does not match the facts. Despite everything we are worried when we say that Israeli Arabs are involved in terrorist organizations. For the time being it is only a marginal phenomenon. Most of them have been caught, and the others will be. I will wind up this subject by saying that the majority of Israeli Arabs not only want to live in peace, but wish to keep their Israeli nationality, whatever the political developments in the region.