Sharon's Gaza maneuver

The withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the Gaza strip is proceeding as well as could be hoped given the circumstances.  Most Americans cannot even imagine the trauma of having their families uprooted and sent elsewhere, so many have seen it as another retreat in the face of terrorism.  But the Israeli government's order for its Jewish settlers to leave Gaza is not about surrendering to the forces of terror at all.  It is a sound tactical play in the face of a changing enemy, and a maneuver that we would expect from an old fighter such as Ariel Sharon.

To understand the tactical significance of the withdrawal and of the Gaza strip itself, we must go back to the Six Day War.  On May 15, 1967, Israel determined that Egypt had concentrated large forces in the Sinai Peninsula.  There was a United Nations Emergency Force that physically separated the two potential belligerents, but true to form, this UN force withdrew on May 19 simply because Egyptian president Gamal Abdel—Nasser demanded it.

Once the UN force was gone, Egyptian forces moved not only up on the Israeli—Sinai border, but tanks, infantry, and artillery pieces poured into the Gaza Strip.  The Strip is essentially a 30—mile long salient of territory that runs from the Sinai in the Southwest to the Northeast into the heart of Israel.  Fortunately for the Israelis, one side of the salient is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea.  However, Egyptian forces in 1967 would have a 30 mile 'head start' if they broke out and maneuvered towards key Israeli cities, and were well within artillery range of many other towns.  Another thing that made Gaza key terrain was that any Israeli Defense Force (IDF) units positioned on the Sinai border were now already flanked to their north by Egyptian units stationed in the Strip.

The IDF Southern Command realized that any attack into the Sinai was doomed to fail if Egyptian forces in Gaza retained freedom to maneuver to the south.  The salient had to be reduced, and the best way to do that was to attack as close as possible to the base of the salient to trap as many enemy units as possible.  Therefore, at dawn on June 5, 1967, General Tal's Division opened the attack on the Southern Front into the Gaza Strip.  Tal's US—made M48 Patton tanks and British—made Centurions, led by light mounted reconnaissance elements went straight to Khan Yunis at the base of the salient.  The Egyptians also knew the significance of the plot of ground they were defending, and fought back tenaciously.  Combat was so intense, that the Strip became known as 'Bloody Gaza.'

To the south, General Sharon's Division struck out across the central Sinai and headed for the Suez Canal.  Yet, his attack would be jeopardized if the Egyptians in Gaza held.  Finally Khan Yunis was secure and Tal's units split up; some headed southwest towards Rafah Junction, while some attacked to the northeast towards the 'tip' of the salient.  Rafah Junction would prove to another bitter fight, but the IDF prevailed, finally securing the Strip after two days of heavy fighting.  General Tal's Division then continued the attack along the northern route across the Sinai.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The Israeli victory in the Six Day War gave the country vast new territories to administer and protect.  The government also had roughly 750,000 Palestinians under their control.  As time marched on, the IDF fought in another war in 1973, conducted several operations into Lebanon, and defended the nation during several decades of terrorist attacks and intifadas.  But demographics have not been kind to the nation of Israel.  Thirty—eight years after first securing the Gaza Strip, Jewish settlers numbered about 8,000 compared to 1.3 million Palestinians.

Sharon, the soldier, sees this current situation as a military problem rather than a surrender to terrorism.  The IDF was stretched thin trying to defend 21 Jewish settlements in a sea of Palestinians and major terrorist groups such as Hamas.  The demographic battle has been lost; and as painful as it is for the settlers to leave, this is a very necessary tactical requirement.  In military terms, it's called consolidating the defensive perimeter.

It is true that there is nothing to be gained politically from this withdrawal, and it still leaves terrorist forces capable of launching rocket and artillery attacks from Gaza into Israeli territory.  But as Charles Krauthammer notes, with the settlers out of the way, massive Israeli retaliation is now back in the cards.  Another tactical advantage is gained by the IDF.  Seventeen of the 21 settlements were concentrated around the old battlegrounds of Khan Yunis and Rafah Junction.  If necessary, the IDF can once again attack into the base of the Gaza salient and stop the flow both lethal and non—lethal commodities along the entire length of the Strip.

It is often said that if you have doubts about your decision, look at the reaction of your adversaries.  If Sharon is surrendering to terror and aiding the territorial ambitions of the Palestinians, one would think they would be ecstatic about the withdrawal of the settlements.  But the average Palestinian is not very happy about this.  Some fear they will end up in a 'big prison' even after the settlers and IDF soldiers leave.  One twenty—year old Palestinian remarked:

"How can we be glad when the soldiers are only pulling back a few hundred metres?  They will still be deployed very near us.  We will remain their hostages, within reach of their gunfire."

Yup; that's the general idea.

So, now we'll see if the Palestinian government can eliminate the terrorists among them, and if the Palestinians can take charge of their own destiny in a peaceful manner.  Ariel Sharon's maneuver has given them the chance to prove themselves, while strengthening Israel's defensive perimeter.  If the Palestinians and their terrorist allies continue their assaults on the Israeli people, there will be hell to pay, and this time, there will be no Israeli citizens in the way of a full—blown assault.

Douglas Hanson is the national security affairs correspondent of The American Thinker.

The withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the Gaza strip is proceeding as well as could be hoped given the circumstances.  Most Americans cannot even imagine the trauma of having their families uprooted and sent elsewhere, so many have seen it as another retreat in the face of terrorism.  But the Israeli government's order for its Jewish settlers to leave Gaza is not about surrendering to the forces of terror at all.  It is a sound tactical play in the face of a changing enemy, and a maneuver that we would expect from an old fighter such as Ariel Sharon.

To understand the tactical significance of the withdrawal and of the Gaza strip itself, we must go back to the Six Day War.  On May 15, 1967, Israel determined that Egypt had concentrated large forces in the Sinai Peninsula.  There was a United Nations Emergency Force that physically separated the two potential belligerents, but true to form, this UN force withdrew on May 19 simply because Egyptian president Gamal Abdel—Nasser demanded it.

Once the UN force was gone, Egyptian forces moved not only up on the Israeli—Sinai border, but tanks, infantry, and artillery pieces poured into the Gaza Strip.  The Strip is essentially a 30—mile long salient of territory that runs from the Sinai in the Southwest to the Northeast into the heart of Israel.  Fortunately for the Israelis, one side of the salient is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea.  However, Egyptian forces in 1967 would have a 30 mile 'head start' if they broke out and maneuvered towards key Israeli cities, and were well within artillery range of many other towns.  Another thing that made Gaza key terrain was that any Israeli Defense Force (IDF) units positioned on the Sinai border were now already flanked to their north by Egyptian units stationed in the Strip.

The IDF Southern Command realized that any attack into the Sinai was doomed to fail if Egyptian forces in Gaza retained freedom to maneuver to the south.  The salient had to be reduced, and the best way to do that was to attack as close as possible to the base of the salient to trap as many enemy units as possible.  Therefore, at dawn on June 5, 1967, General Tal's Division opened the attack on the Southern Front into the Gaza Strip.  Tal's US—made M48 Patton tanks and British—made Centurions, led by light mounted reconnaissance elements went straight to Khan Yunis at the base of the salient.  The Egyptians also knew the significance of the plot of ground they were defending, and fought back tenaciously.  Combat was so intense, that the Strip became known as 'Bloody Gaza.'

To the south, General Sharon's Division struck out across the central Sinai and headed for the Suez Canal.  Yet, his attack would be jeopardized if the Egyptians in Gaza held.  Finally Khan Yunis was secure and Tal's units split up; some headed southwest towards Rafah Junction, while some attacked to the northeast towards the 'tip' of the salient.  Rafah Junction would prove to another bitter fight, but the IDF prevailed, finally securing the Strip after two days of heavy fighting.  General Tal's Division then continued the attack along the northern route across the Sinai.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The Israeli victory in the Six Day War gave the country vast new territories to administer and protect.  The government also had roughly 750,000 Palestinians under their control.  As time marched on, the IDF fought in another war in 1973, conducted several operations into Lebanon, and defended the nation during several decades of terrorist attacks and intifadas.  But demographics have not been kind to the nation of Israel.  Thirty—eight years after first securing the Gaza Strip, Jewish settlers numbered about 8,000 compared to 1.3 million Palestinians.

Sharon, the soldier, sees this current situation as a military problem rather than a surrender to terrorism.  The IDF was stretched thin trying to defend 21 Jewish settlements in a sea of Palestinians and major terrorist groups such as Hamas.  The demographic battle has been lost; and as painful as it is for the settlers to leave, this is a very necessary tactical requirement.  In military terms, it's called consolidating the defensive perimeter.

It is true that there is nothing to be gained politically from this withdrawal, and it still leaves terrorist forces capable of launching rocket and artillery attacks from Gaza into Israeli territory.  But as Charles Krauthammer notes, with the settlers out of the way, massive Israeli retaliation is now back in the cards.  Another tactical advantage is gained by the IDF.  Seventeen of the 21 settlements were concentrated around the old battlegrounds of Khan Yunis and Rafah Junction.  If necessary, the IDF can once again attack into the base of the Gaza salient and stop the flow both lethal and non—lethal commodities along the entire length of the Strip.

It is often said that if you have doubts about your decision, look at the reaction of your adversaries.  If Sharon is surrendering to terror and aiding the territorial ambitions of the Palestinians, one would think they would be ecstatic about the withdrawal of the settlements.  But the average Palestinian is not very happy about this.  Some fear they will end up in a 'big prison' even after the settlers and IDF soldiers leave.  One twenty—year old Palestinian remarked:

"How can we be glad when the soldiers are only pulling back a few hundred metres?  They will still be deployed very near us.  We will remain their hostages, within reach of their gunfire."

Yup; that's the general idea.

So, now we'll see if the Palestinian government can eliminate the terrorists among them, and if the Palestinians can take charge of their own destiny in a peaceful manner.  Ariel Sharon's maneuver has given them the chance to prove themselves, while strengthening Israel's defensive perimeter.  If the Palestinians and their terrorist allies continue their assaults on the Israeli people, there will be hell to pay, and this time, there will be no Israeli citizens in the way of a full—blown assault.

Douglas Hanson is the national security affairs correspondent of The American Thinker.