JULY 2006


Peretz must justify his position
by Ofer Shelah


Israel's 'civilian' defense minister must challenge existing defense strategies


Re-examining security

If there was any justification for the nomination of Amir Peretz as defense minister despite his lack of field experience or experience making security-related decisions, it stemmed the need to reexamine prevailing approaches to defense.

Peretz was not expected to know the secure range of artillery fire. Rather, he was expected to question the notion that more shooting, more assassinations, more bombings would bring an end to the fighting.

He was supposed to ask what Israel's true interests are, what we gain from assassinating Jamal Abu-Samhadana at a time when Hamas was treading close to the cliff of resuming terror attacks, and whether raising the bar of Israeli fire would raise the danger of an accident that could bring about yet another descent into violence.

New defense strategies

Peretz tried to bring a new spirit to all things connected to Palestinian lives. In the weeks since he took office he has opened the Karni crossing ("Up to now, Karni has remained closed, and opened whenever possible. Now, it will be remain open except when security concerns demand we close it," he told IDF officials), and he drastically increased the number of Palestinian workers allowed into Israel. As of last weekend, Peretz granted an additional 5,000 entry permits, bringing the total number of workers to 16,500.

At the same time, Peretz instructed the army to ramp up the fighting. This order stemmed from a desire not to appear weak in the eyes of IDF brass. More than that, it stemmed from the fact that as minister he has no other principled stand, and has no other tools to test or to create it: The options presented to him are those presented by army officials, and his views are shaped by the information they provide.

What he did was to tell the army to "find new ways to fight the Qassams." The officers said "yes, sir," and offered to expand the range of artillery fire, and Peretz approved the move.

They said it was possible to aim their fire closer to population centers, and Peretz said yes. He didn't ask if firing into open areas really helped stop the Qassams, or if the price was worth the danger that something like the Beit Lahiya beach incident could happen.

If Peretz has the time, he should call together his advisors and ask them how many times we have looked at a similar situation during the fighting. It's not a small number.

If he fails to ask these questions, if he fails to question the notion that the only way is by increasing our firepower, there is no reason for him to be defense minister.

Sources in the Education Ministry were not enthused by the protest act of Yael Tayari, a Sderot high school teacher, who decided to go on hunger strike opposite the home of Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Friends of Tayari said that the Education Ministry has ordered the teacher to end her strike, and have threatened her with losing her job if she does not do so.