Opinion | The Cost of De Facto Annexation Will Be Paid in Blood
The agreements and legislative initiatives preceding the establishment of the new government, in particular the “Smotrich Law,” give political actors an opening to intervene in operative security matters. The law will enable them to initiate operations in Judea and Samaria and against the Gaza Strip aimed at shaping a new reality that will lead to a security, diplomatic and social crisis.
These initiatives rest, on the one hand, upon non-professionalism, ignorance and disregard for the minutiae of administering life and security in the territories, and on the other hand, a religious belief in annexing – first de facto, then de jure – territory in Judea and Samaria. The result will be the collapse and elimination of the Palestinian Authority, and a transition to direct management of Palestinians’ lives – including health, welfare, sanitation and infrastructure, at a cost of tens of billions of shekels, at the expense of each one of us. Hamas and the other extremists must be rubbing their hands in glee.
For years, Israelis and parts of the media have neither known nor cared what happens in the territories, and certainly not about mundane civilian matters, which are seen as tangential to defense operations. The seemingly technical step of appointing an additional minister in the Defense Ministry who will be in charge of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Civil Administration is in fact a strategic shift with grave security, legal and international implications.
Not only will it damage operational security capabilities, it will also damage the ability to manage civilian life for Israelis and Palestinians alike, by impairing the ability to provide them with basic security. Practically, it will lead to chaos and dysfunction, including in civilian institutions, which require coordinated, integrated security coverage.
This is the true meaning of transferring authority for the Civil Administration to the additional minister in the Defense Ministry, within the defense minister’s jurisdiction. In practice, the process will lead to things being managed in a separate channel, above the heads of defense officials.
This does not involve sovereign Israeli territory, and therefore the comparison to what goes on within the country is misleading and baseless. According to international law, responsibility for implementing the law in Judea and Samaria falls on the head of the IDF Central Command. Due to the existing constitutional situation, the legal aspects in Judea and Samaria are highly complex, and Israeli law applies primarily to the Israeli communities and citizens there.
Under current law, COGAT and the Civil Administration – which operate in the field, not from government headquarters in Jerusalem – coordinate civilian operations activity there, at the behest of the head of Central Command, the defense minister and the Israeli government: among themselves, with the security agencies and, as needed, with the various Palestinian agencies and often with international bodies as well. This involves areas including land planning and supervision, employment, water, electricity, infrastructure, communications and transportation.
When it comes to the details of the new law’s implementation, it’s likely that the oversight and ground enforcement units will act on the basis of political considerations, and not in tandem with security officials. The same will hold true in regard to expanding construction in Israeli communities; the seizure of land, whether private, state-owned or subject to the Absentee Property Law; travel permits for Palestinians; coordinating trade among the PA, Israel and the world; and in regard to communications networks, farming and more. In effect, it will mean de facto annexation.
This is how you design a chaotic strategic reality under the radar, which may be exactly what those who are behind the change are aiming for, even if it goes against the intention of the prime minister himself and the government’s declared policy.
The defense minister, who by law will bear full responsibility, will not know, will not want to know, or will choose to ignore what is being done. And this is only part of the picture. The matter is much more serious than that: The unity of the military command will be completely broken up. Under the defense minister and, on his behalf, the IDF chief of staff and the head of the command, the four arms of security operations – the army, the Shin Bet security service, the Civil Administration and the police – worked in tandem, in an integrated way.
It took many years, at the cost of much “blood, sweat and tears,” to arrive at the current formula in which these bodies can work together in coordinated fashion on macro events as well as events requiring an immediate tactical response. In the territories, a tactical incident at a checkpoint, during a building demolition or often during a terror attack or road accident, can easily turn into a strategic and international incident that requires instant decision-making and the simultaneous conveying of these decisions to all agencies.
The discordance between responsibility and division of authority will also come into play if the Border Police in Judea and Samaria are subordinated to the national security minister and differentiated from the way the operational chain of command has functioned up to now. What we’ll get is a situation in which three ministers – the defense minister, the minister in charge of the Civil Administration and the minister in charge of the Border Police – are involved in handling a single incident that requires an immediate response, and the extinguishing of a bonfire before it turns into a huge blaze.
The public must understand: These changes mean that processes that were hitherto dealt with quickly and efficiently at the professional level, under the defense minister for the most part, will now require a decision by the prime minister or even by the security cabinet. The result could be not just an irreversible change in the situation on the ground, but also the potential for security failures with violent results that are beyond control.
The cost could be very steep: blood, a social, economic and international crisis, and harm to the entire public, not just in the territories. An entire public that does not see such chaos as a heavenly decree and does not wish to indenture its future and its children’s future to destructive whims, will pay the price.
The chaos that these changes will bring will have the opposite of their intended effect and make it very difficult for any government to implement its policy. On the strategic level, the proposed changes pull the rug out from under the Israeli argument that our actions in Judea and Samaria are not about making our control there permanent, but are part of a temporary situation, until a valid arrangement is reached. This has dramatic implications for Israel’s international standing, for its foreign relations and economy and for the ability to legally defend the settlers, members of the security forces and the decision-makers themselves.
- Gen. (res.) Matan Vilnai, former IDF chief of staff and minister of home front defense, chairman of Commanders for Israel’s Security
- Gen. (res.) Yaakov Orr, former coordinator of government activity in the territories, commander of the Judea and Samaria Division and head of the division of the State Comptroller’s Office that oversees the Defense Ministry
- Gen. (res.) Danny Yatom, former head of the Mossad and IDF Central Command
- Gen. (res.) Amram Mitzna, former head of IDF Central Command
- Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon, former head of the IDF Operations Directorate and the Central Command
- Gen. (res.) Dov Tzadka, former head of the Civil Administration
- Gen. (res.) Ilan Paz, former head of the Civil Administration.
Article source: Haaretz | An open letter from seven reserve-duty generals | Jan 16, 2023