The State of Israel has armed its enemies.
After six years it is still difficult to digest this. It is hard to believe that by its own hand,Israel built up a hostile military force and let it entrench itself in the heart of the country.
“How do we expect them to keep order if they don’t get arms?”
“How will they fight against Hamas? With sticks?”
These were the rhetorical questions Shimon Peres asked in the Knesset debates in the euphoric early days of Oslo.
Such was the Israeli justification for the transfer of 11,544 weapons to the “retired” terrorists who would in due course once again do battle against Israel.
To be sure, Rabin, Peres, and their partners were not the originators of the idea of building a Palestinian force in the Land of Israel.
In the first Camp David agreement, Menachem Begin agreed to the establishment of “a strong local police force” whose purpose would be to maintain public order in the proposed Palestinian “autonomy.”
Later, under the May, 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreements which were part of the Oslo peace process, the term “Palestinian police” was coined. This was a military force disguised as a civil guard. It was also decided that this “police force” would be responsible for public order, prevent hostile actions, and be the only armed force in the Gaza Strip and Jericho area.
To carry out these undertakings, the “thinkers” of Oslo I gave the Palestinian police 7,000 submachine guns of different types, 120 machine guns of 0.3 and 0.5 inch caliber, a number of boats (for the Palestinian coast guard) and 45 armored vehicles. These, it was stressed, would move on wheels, not on chains. The kinds of weapons and quantities of ammunition the Palestinians would be permitted were not specified. In the course of time, the PA exploited this lack of clarity. It was also specified that 9,000 men would serve in the Palestinian police force. That left 2,000 policemen who would presumably be unarmed-or perhaps armed with billy clubs, a highly improbable scenario.
In the weeks preceding the summer of 1994, when the Palestinian forces took positions in Gaza and Jericho, Israel examined carefully every single one of the weapons which were intended for the new police force. Rifles were marked; numbers were etched into them; and in the laboratories of the army, the ballistic signatures were registered. The weapons were supposed to become personal weapons; the number on a weapon would be attached to an individual in the Palestinian police force just as is done with weapons in the Israel Defense Force, so that in case of a prohibited use of a weapon, Israel could quickly identify its owner.
The careful marking was done in accordance with instructions by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in an effort to calm the Israeli public.
The citizens of the state did not easily buy into the idea of resting their security on Arafat’s men.
The slogan, “Don’t give them rifles,” and the arguments of the opposition that Palestinian policemen were nothing but terrorists in disguise, made an impression on the average Israeli who is usually apathetic, if not asleep. Therefore Rabin instructed the security services to undertake this effort to convince the public that its safety was being guarded.
However, the measures that were taken were merely for appearance sake. From recent accounts by senior officers who were involved in the process of arming the Palestinians, it emerges that the army knew perfectly well that the day after the policeman received his meticulously-identified rifle, nothing would prevent him from exchanging his weapon with someone else. Even in the Israel Defense Forces, no one thought seriously it would be possible to track down such exchanges. Thus it was clear from the beginning that all the cross-referencing between the number on the weapon and the owner were useful-in the best case-tor only a very short time.
The ballistic signatures were an even greater fiction. The reasons are clear to any beginner. To identify a weapon from which a shot was fired, one has to find the cartridges expelled during the firing. But a Palestinian policeman who goes out to ambush someone from Area A (under control of the Palestinian Authority), or from a vehicle that then drives off to the sovereign Palestinian area, knows the forces of the Israeli Department for Criminal Investigation will not follow him to look for cartridges. Even the most advanced methods used to identify a weapon on the basis of the bullets fired from it are useful in only a small minority of cases.
Usually, investigators cannot find the bullet, or even if they do, if it was squashed as it is in most cases, they cannot make use of it. To these difficulties, add a third one. Half of the weapons given to the Palestinians were M16s. Because of their great speed and small size, the bullets of M-16s easily disappear, are shattered, or squashed. In other words, the ballistic signatures were of no practical use.
One must assume this defect was brought to the knowledge of the politicians who had decided to arm the Palestinians with these rifles but they decided “Never mind; it will be O.K.” Colonel Gal Hirsch, commander of the Binyamin brigade, recently roared with laughter when he was asked about ballistic examination of the Palestinian bullets which were fired at Israeli forces in the recent turmoil. He explained that one cannot carry out this kind of examination for thousands of bullets. On the other hand the Kalachnikov used to shoot at the bus on French Hill in Jerusalem was identified with absolute certainty: it appears on the official list of weapons with which Israel armed the forces of the Palestinian Authority.
Three months after the Palestinian Authority entered Gaza in 1994, the PA police force turned its arms on the Israel Defense Forces for the first time.
The battle took place at the Erez crossing, lasted for some hours, and resulted in the death of an Israeli soldier. The Israeli government explained that the Palestinian police had not yet become accustomed to the new rules and the Israeli public promptly forgot this serious event, Indeed, the Palestinian police never adjusted to the rules which Israel assigned them, despite which Israel steadily increased the weapons in their hands.
The Palestinians have increased their weaponry through two major channels: direct supply by Israel and smuggling. The Palestinians issued requests, five or six times a year, for more ammunition stores. All these requests-every single one of them-received a positive response. As of 1996, the Palestinians had stockpiled a million and a half rifle bullets, out of which one million were 7.26 millimeter caliber (for Kalachnikovs) and 400,000 were 9 millimeter caliber appropriate for pistols and Uzi submachine guns and 100,000 bullets of 5.26 millimeter for the M-16 and the Galil assault rifles. Like the rifles, the bullets were not directly supplied from the stores of the Israel Defense Forces but were acquired by the Palestinians by purchase abroad and were acquired with Israeli consent and supervision.
Only after two and a half years, with the change to a Likud-fed government, was this flood stopped by the officer in charge, who observed: “The quantities are completely irrational and the principle on my watch is ‘The less they have, the healthier it is.”‘
As for the PA’s second method of arming itself, the information system of the Israel Defense Forces followed endless smuggling of weapons into the autonomy area.
They got in by land, sea, and air. As a result, the Palestinian police was strengthened militar- fly, and was transformed from a police force to a regular guerrilla army. Israeli military intelligence officers saw this and commented on it but none pounded the table…
The Israeli underworld served as another source of weapons for the Palestinians. Israeli criminals sold their Arab partners significant numbers of Uzi and Galil submachine guns. This is probably the reason why these weapons are found so abundantly on the shoulders of Palestinian warriors. Other types of prohibited weapons were the Karl Gustav and the M-1, which is a sharpshooter’s gun.
How many weapons have the Palestinians assembled in the past seven years? The Israeli army knows how many MIGs Syria has, but research for this article has shown that military intelligence has not the faintest idea how many Kalachnikovs are in the hands of Yasser Arafat. ‘Tens of thousands more than were agreed upon” said an IDF spokesman, “How many tens of thousands?” “I don’t know. Maybe thirty thousand. Maybe more.” The main indication for these enormous numbers of weapons is that in the “autonomous areas” one can obtain weapons of all kinds for ridiculously low prices. The fact the prices are so low means the market is flooded.
What is clear to all is that the Palestinians have increased the variety of their weapons. Recently Barnachano, the official army publication, reported that the PA has tanks and anti-aircraft missiles which are a serious danger to Israel’s helicopters. The PA also has anti-tank weapons and mines, hand grenades, and explosives of different types.
In the fall of 1995, at the height of the smuggling era, the Palestinians obtained still more help from an unexpected source-Israel. The Israeli leadership knew well from intelligence reports that the Palestinians were arming themselves from their own resources. In spite of this Israel gave them a gift-8,000 new weapons. And there was an additional Israeli gift-a tripling of the size of the Palestinian “police” to 30,000 men, all of this to accompany the signing of Oslo 11. According to this agreement, 4,000 new “policemen” would be allowed in the cities of Judea and Samaria armed with Kalachnikovs and M-16s (duly marked by Israel of course). Four thousand additional policemen received Beretta pistols and to this were added 120 machine guns. Even so, it reached the point where there were 15,000 more policemen than officially permitted weapons in the hands of the Palestinian Authority.
There was no escaping the conclusion that Rabin, Peres & Co. were aware of the fact this large force was not going to carry out its undertakings with nightsticks.
One of the IDF army officers who was opposed to what was going on at the time, but is not yet completely free to speak, said that the government’s closing of its eyes to the extent of Palestinian armament is symptomatic of the Oslo process.
The Oslo process meant the avoidance of problems rather than confronting them.
The political leadership tried to blur the fact that there were basic breaches of agreements and that while Israel wanted peace, the Palestinians wanted to continue the struggle. The politicians ignored the facts; they ignored the military analyses; they ignored the uselessness of the ballistic markings; they ignored the smuggling. In short, they avoided all obstacles so that the process could go on. This writer asked the army officer who must still remain anonymous: “All right, we know about the politicians. This was their agenda and they could not admit their mistakes, but why was the army quiet?” He said: “Some in the army wanted to be partners in this historical process and closed their eyes to avoid recognizing the military meaning of what was going on.”
What this officer could not say explicitly has been said by Likud Knesset member Uzi Landau: “it is not a matter simply of closing one’s eyes. This was intentional deception and intentional ignoring of information. There was an uninterrupted process of arms smuggling from Egypt through Gaza and from Jordan. The leadership clique swept everything under the rug. The army did not take seriously the information it had collected itself, and anyone who spoke up and warned was treated as a spinner of fantasies. All the revelations-the supposedly new ones that appear in the government White Paper [published on this website]- are in fact old news.
For the last year and a half, the IDF had information making it clear the Palestinians were preparing themselves for a time of conflict. It is a very worrisome question why the army did not strongly oppose the government’s obfuscation.”
For over two and a half years, Landau saw from up close how the army failed to speak up strongly but instead followed the program fed to it by the Prime Minister. During Landau’s service as chairman of the Knesset Foreign and Security Committee, the committee was briefed by intelligence officers that the Palestinian coast guard had acquired the character of a small navy and that the Palestinian police had established a commando unit undergoing rigorous training. Intelligence officers as well as attentive settlers related that during the night, in the wadis, the Palestinians were conducting regular firing exercises. But reports are one thing-action something else.
The Netanyahu government, elected in 1996, not only did nothing to stop Palestinian armament, but graciously turned over to the Palestinians 200 Ingram submachine guns as part of the withdrawal agreement from Hebron.
Incidentally, after their distribution, the Ingrams disappeared from Hebron, apparently to go into a Palestinian emergency storage depot. To Netanyahu’s credit, two years later he pulled himself together enough to demand in the Wye conference that the illegal weapons be collected. Clinton proposed establishing a mechanism administered by the CIA to supervise the process.
The Palestinians agreed to Clinton’s proposal. They only had a small condition. In return they demanded that the CIA train their forces in the most up-to-date methods of combat etc. Netanyahu did not oppose this. In practice, as usual, only the paragraphs benefiting the Palestinians were carried out. They received the ClAtraining and kept the weapons.
The CIA training and support, whose precise nature remains secret, continued until the last possible moment.
The last truckload of American supplies crossed the Karni crossing point for Gaza on the third day of the breakout of the current uprising.
Under Barak, further Israeli support was given, to build up Palestinian forces.
Only eight months ago, just one month before the earlier “Naqba” riots by the Palestinians, Barak approved turning over to them 300 additional Kalachnikovs.
A senior IDF officer defended this decision before the Foreign and Security Affairs Committee of the Knesset. Thus the Palestinian forces have reached the point where they are now. They possess enormous reserves of ammunition.
In September of 2000, on the Jewish New Year, they began to direct precise fire on the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces and the inhabitants of the Jewish communities of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
The eyes that were glued shut for seven years have opened in horrified amazement.
This article ran in the December, 2000 issue of Nekudah, a monthly magazine