Fence may have prevented abduction

Fence may have prevented abduction

By Col. (res) Shaul Arieli, ynet

23.06.14
 
Op-ed: Under pressure from settlers, defense establishment failed to complete separation barrier in area where teens were kidnapped.
 
 
Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli briefing MK Pnina Tamano Shata (Yesh Atid) on a Geneva Initiative Tour
 
The kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and citizens, whether in order to murder them or as a bargaining chip to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners, is a working premise the defense establishments have been dealing with for many years.
This threat is handled in a variety of patterns such as information, movement and transportation procedures and a roadblock system.
 
The Seam Zone project stood out as part of Israel's preparedness for the wave of terror which hit us in the second intifada. It focused on setting up the barrier aimed at preventing terrorists from infiltrating Israel but also reducing the friction between the large population centers by separating between then.
 
Surprisingly and unfortunately, due to considerations which had nothing to do with security, this measure is absent from the Gush Etzion region where the teens were kidnapped.
 
There are some 65,000 Israelis living in the Gush Etzion area, almost one-fifth of the Israelis in Judea and Samaria. Whoever passes through gets the wrong impression that it is a friendly vicinity, with no Palestinian population and security-related threats and filled with weapon holders.
 
But the truth is that the overwhelming majority of residents, about 40,000, are haredim living in Beitar Illit. Add that to thousands of high school and yeshiva students, most of whom lack military training and are unaware of the nature of the threats surrounding them.
 
This bloc of communities is located between Bethlehem and Hebron, and the main traffic route – Highway 60 which crosses it – continues to an area characterized by massive support for Hamas. For example, a center for Salafi activity has developed in recent years in the town of Yatta near Hebron, forcing the Palestinian Authority's security organizations and the IDF to invest many efforts against the hostility of part of the population.
 
This fact makes it difficult, for example, to arrest those responsible for the killing of IDF soldier Gal Kobi in Hebron nine months ago and policeman Baruch Mizrahi two months ago. These are two serious incidents which have joined the wave of attacks suffered by the bloc.
 
Despite this history, and despite the investment of hundreds of millions of shekels in the basic infrastructure of the fence, the defense establishment chose to inform the High Court of Justice in 2009 that it did not intend to complete its construction.
 
A defense establishment announcement that it would resume the construction of the fence in Gush Etzion in 2013 was subject to a political and PR counter-attack from the bloc's leaders. Their objection is based on the understanding that they would not get the High Court's approval to build the fence in the suggested greedy outline which is very lacking in its security aspects.
 
The council heads took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and many others on a tour, as part of a huge PR and political effort to prevent the erection of a fence on a security outline in the Gush Etzion area.
 
The council head argued that "the fence might separate between the eastern part of the bloc and its western part, leave several communities outside the fence, destroy the fabric of life with the Palestinians and create a narrow passageway around the road to Jerusalem and the lowland."
 
In other, more accurate words, the construction of the fence would have created a clear border and prevented the expansion of the settlements northward to Jerusalem and eastward to the Herodium area.
 
The defense establishment couldn't cope with the pressure, and Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Naveh announced that the fence would not be built.
 
The council head rushed to declare, "We are happy and excited to receive the news that after an long battle against the completion the separation fence, we managed to influence its freezing. I welcome the decision and believe we will be able to maintain our good relations with our Arab neighbors."
 
This isn't the only incident in which settlers' political considerations overpowered security needs. A remarkably similar decision was made in regards to the construction of the fence in Ma'aleh Adumim, where another 40,000 Israelis live.
 
No one could have guaranteed that the completion of the fence would completely prevent abductions in light of the terror organizations' huge motivation. Hamas and Hezbollah have managed to kidnap soldiers engaging in operational activity on Israeli territory. But it can reduce the potential of this threat and others threats.
 
In addition to our hopes to bring the boys back safely, we must demand that the Israeli government and defense establishment recognize these threats, as long as we are far from an agreement with the Palestinians, prepare for them according to security considerations and ward off extraneous considerations.
 
Colonel (res.) Shaul Arieli is a member of the Council for Peace and Security and one of the Geneva Initiative negotiators.