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A Tactical Withdrawal in Gaza

Reader comment on item: Sharon Loses His Way On Israeli 'Settlements'

Submitted by Uzi Amit-Kohn (Israel), Feb 12, 2004 at 07:49

The problem with Dr. Pipes attitude to Arik Sharon's plan to withdraw troops and Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip is that it lends too much weight to the psychological efect on the Palestinians and ignores the important tactical -even strategic- rationale for making the withdrawal: to create a stable and tenable set of arrangements and temporary borders which will allow Israel to exist and it economy to prosper without unacceptably high casualties from terrorism and in the absence of an agreement with the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon shares Dr. Pipes skepticism about the intentions of the Palestinian leadership and the ability of this generation of Palestinians to "live in peace" with Israel. The conclusion is to work out a set of arrangements whereby Israel will be able to "live in war" with the Palestinians (i.e. to handle Israel- Palestinian relations in terms of conflict management), but at sufficiently low cost in lives, money and military forces commited to the mission. Because the Palestinians cannot be relied on to negotiate in good faith, the steps taken must be unilateral. Because the continued residence of 7,000 Jewish settlers deep within hostile territory, surrounded on all sides by 1.5 million hostile Palestinians eager to see them dead (and-incidentally- possessed of the highest birthrate in the world), is an inherently untenable situation, withdrawal of the settlements in Gaza is clearly called for.

It is also wrong- and highly ahistorical - to view a withdrawal in the face of the enemy as tantamount to a defeat. Often it is the failure to withdraw to defensible positions which leads to defeat. Winston Churchill's decision to withdraw British and French troops from the beachhead they held at Dunkirk may have been interpreted as a victory by the Germans, but it kept those troops available to fight another day. Conversely, it was Hitler's refusal to authorize von Paulus to withdraw his exposed army in the face of the Red Army's pincer manuever which doomed the Germans to defeat at Stalingrad, something for which we remain grateful to this day. If General Percival had listened to the advice of his staff and engineering officers and redeployed British troops in the Malasian penninsula to a secure fortified perimeter around Singapore, a location where they could have been given air cover by RAF planes based on Singapore's four airfields, Singapore need not have fallen and 90,000 British troops wouldn't have found themselves surrendering to a much smaller Japanese army. And if Robert E. Lee had been sensible enough to accept as a momentary setback his failure to outflank the Union Army through Little Roundtop on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and withdrawn his forces or done anything other than order the suicidal charge up Cemetary Ridge the next day, the American Civil War might have had a different outcome.

A tactical withdrawal, a straightening of lines, an intelligent redeployment of forces to more easily defensible positions, might be interpreted by the enemy as a victory for him, but often it is in fact the key to preventing a real victory by that enemy. Separating Israel from the 1.5 million hostile Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and the demographic time-bomb they represent, is such a withdrawal. What is more, the Palestinians understand that for all the appearance of a victory , the unilateral withdarwawl will leave them with a much weaker hand. That is why the Palestinian leadership is so opposed to the move.
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