18 September 2004
The simmering argument between Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Israel's military chiefs over the feasibility of his evacuation plan came to a head at the Israeli cabinet meeting Sunday, September 19. Sharon, who failed to offer the traditional New Years' greetings to the nation this year, finally admitted that which the military, security and police chiefs ? as well as DEBKAfile - have been saying for months: the unilateral evacuation of some 9,000 Israelis living in the Gaza Strip cannot be accomplished, if at all, without a substantial cost in military and civilian lives. Conditions on the ground, say these authorities, make disengagement unfeasible.
But the conclusion they eliciting from the prime minister was
unexpected: I am sticking to my disengagement guns and not budging one whit from my timetable, he told the ministers and army chiefs: it is up to the military to make it possible; they had better start preparing for evacuation under enemy fire.
As reported previously by DEBKAfile, the Palestinians are in the midst of massive preparations, including training special operations units and procurement of fresh supplies of upgraded weapons, for hammering the evacuating forces and Gush Katif evacuees and making the operation a bloodbath. Egypt has virtually retired from its post-disengagement security role in the Gaza Strip and is only half-heartedly blocking Palestinian arms supplies through Sinai.
Until now, Sharon and defense minister Shaul Mofaz said that if the evacuation cannot be accomplished without an unacceptable level of bloodshed, then it will not be implemented at all. But now, Sharon appears determined to go forward regardless.
With the onus of a predictable disaster on their heads, Israel's military and security chiefs explain: If this plan goes ahead, it will not be disengagement but total war, a tornado of terrorist attacks, gunfire and missiles blasting the Gaza Strip, the western and southern Negev and Gush Katif. Instead of pulling back, the army will be forced to drive back into the large sections of the Gaza Strip controlled by Palestinians in order to subdue their war offensive.
Addressing the same cabinet meeting, Shin Beit director Avi Dichter limited his warning to a single issue: If Israel pulls out of the Philadelphi corridor on the Gaza Strip-Egyptian border, it will open the door to an avalanche of advanced weapons the like of which was prevented from reaching the Palestinians in all four years of their warfare against Israel.