Daily Israel Report

Sharon to Defense Officials: "Just Answer My Questions"

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened senior defense officials on Wednesday to discuss his plan to retreat from Israel's southern Mediterranean coastal region and transfer control there to Yasser Arafat.
First Publish: 3/18/2004, 5:19 PM / Last Update: 3/18/2004, 1:25 PM

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon convened senior defense officials on Wednesday to discuss his plan to retreat from Israel's southern Mediterranean coastal region and transfer control there to Yasser Arafat. Sharon began the three-hour meeting by explaining that he formulated his disengagement plan because of concern that a “diplomatic vacuum would soon be created, and Israel would be forced to implement other, foreign plans” if it doesn't initiate its own plan.

Sharon asked the security officials to respond to questions of how to prepare the evacuation of IDF troops and civilian towns and whether his withdrawal plan should be carried out in one or two stages. Sharon began to lose his patience as some of the security officials present began voicing their concerns about the plan itself instead of responding to Sharon’s questions about its implementation. At one point, the Prime Minister began interrupting the security officials saying, "Everything you are saying I know already. I present the questions; you are experienced commanders, and I want you to answer them."

Amongst those who continued to oppose the planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza region are IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon and Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad. Gilad voiced strong objection in the meeting saying, “no progress is possible while Yasser Arafat remains at the helm.”

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has, on the other hand, endorsed Sharon's proposal. A key issue at Wednesday's meeting was Israel's maintaining control over the Philadelphi route which Sharon has recommended against. Mofaz challenged the Prime Minister saying that an IDF presence along the route, located between Rafiah and Egypt, has great strategic importance and will enable Israel to monitor the border between Egypt and Gaza. Mofaz also recommended to Sharon that, after the proposed withdrawal, Israel still allow Arabs from the Arafat-controlled areas to enter Israel’s pre-1967 borders for employment purposes. Mofaz supported conceding Israeli land to the PLO in Judea and Samaria as well. Mofaz said that he views Judea and Samaria as having more strategic value than the southern Mediterranean coast and therefore recommends a “very limited withdrawal" there.

Senior Defense Officials at the meeting also said that the Dahaniya airport in the Gaza Strip must not operate, and that no sea port should operate in Gaza unless it is under Israeli supervision.

While Sharon apparently accepted the recommendation to maintain control over the strategic Philidelphi route, it is unclear how he will address the other two requirements set by the defense establishment for preventing Gaza from turning into what one defense official termed ‘Cape Canaveral’ – with missiles being launched at Israel.

Dr. Aaron Lerner, Director of Israel Media Research and Analysis, points out that if Israel retreats from Gaza as per Prime Minister Sharon's idea, “it is expected that an Arab sovereignty of some form will take charge of the vacuum - a sovereignty that would enjoy the recognition of many nations around the world and there is no reason to believe that these nations would respect the desire of Israel to prevent this sovereign entity from exercising its sovereign right to operate sea ports and airports.”

Lerner added: “The Defense Minister no doubt genuinely believes, as do most senior politicians - and in particular those who are confident they are destined to be prime minister in the future - that their serving in their position in and of itself is more important for the security of the nation than any concession to security that may be required in order to retain their portfolio.”