Defense Minister Ehud Barak has given orders to remove three critical anti-terror checkpoints in Judea and Samaria, allowing terrorists to travel unhindered. The orders were given in compliance with demands by visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who continually insists that Israel mollify Palestinian Authority by removing additional security checkpoints. The IDF generally objects to such gestures.
Arutz-7's defense correspondent Haggai Huberman reports that the three are: Between Ramallah and Beit El; the southern entrance to Hevron; and north of Shechem. Each has its own story, as follows.
The Beit El - Ramallah Checkpoint
One of the three is between the large PA-controlled city of Ramallah and the entry road leading to Beit El, home to nearly 7,000 Jews, including students of all ages in its various schools.
The IDF expressed strong objections to the removal of this checkpoint. IDF Central Region Commander Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni and Judea/Samaria Region Division Head Brig.-Gen. Noam Tivon explained to Barak that the removal would allow free and unhindered Arab traffic on the old north-south highway to Shechem - adjacent to IDF bases and homes in Beit El.
The IDF officials reminded Barak, to no avail, that shots were fired at Beit El in the past from this highway. They also told him that the nearby intersection between Ramallah and Beit El was the site of violent Arab riots when the Oslo War broke out in late 2000, and at least two separate lynchings were attempted against Jews there.
IDF Officials: Removing even one more checkpoint will lower the security level below the "red line" of risk.
Huberman reports that the reason the local Arabs want the checkpoint removed is not for their convenience, because another north-south road is available just dozens of meters to the west. Rather, they have a symoblic need to have their "capital" city of Ramallah to be as open as possible.
"The checkpoints are a most significant factor in the war against Palestinian terrorism," a top IDF officer told Huberman, "in thwarting attacks, in catching wanted terrorists, and in intercepting weapons... The number of checkpoints in Judea and Samaria at present is the absolute minimum necessary for Israeli security. Taking off even one more will lower the security level to 'below the red line' of risk."
Northern Exit from Shechem - Open
The second critically strategic checkpoint removed by Barak's orders was Checkpoint 408, dismantled on Monday at the northern entrance to the north-Shomron city of Shechem (Nablus).
Barak told the IDF that he needed one checkpoint removed from the Shechem area, and that the IDF should choose which one. The IDF chose, as the least of the evils, the only checkpoint that is not situated on a road leading directly to a Jewish town. Thus, the Hawara checkpoint - whose removal the Palestinian Authority has long demanded - remains in place, protecting the Jews of Yitzhar and nearby towns. Similarly, the checkpoint near Shavei Shomron has not been touched.
However, the removal of the northern Shechem checkpoint effectively ends the IDF's encirclement of Shechem, which is known as one of the PA's top terrorism centers. The encirclement prevented the terrorists from leaving the city freely, and was an important factor in the decrease of Shechem-based terrorism. Terrorists can now travel freely from Shechem to Jenin via Tubas, as well as throughout most of the vast expanses of the northern Shomron.
IDF vehicles traveling east-west between Shavei Shomron and Mt. Eval will now encounter unchecked potential terrorists traveling on the north-south route, Huberman notes.
Yata-Hevron Road - Open
A third checkpoint that is about to be removed, at Barak's orders, is located just south of Hevron, at what is known as Kvasim Junction near the hostile Arab village of Yata. Though the army did not oppose the opening of this intersection, it should be remembered that in early 2003, three soldiers were murdered by terrorists who escaped to Yata via the unprotected Yata-Hevron route.
The Defense Minister gave the order to remove the checkpoints in accordance with Secretary Rice's wishes - but in defiance of clear IDF warnings that shooting attacks against Israeli citizens and soldiers are likely to be renewed as a result. Senior Central Region officers told Barak directly that checkpoint removals in the past have led to significant increases in attacks.