Israeli Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz recently relayed warnings that Israel is likely to deploy tanks, helicopters and other military supplies to its troops in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza. Mofaz's warning was followed by similar threats from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's advisor on security issues, Dani Yatum. Yatum predicted that a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State by the Palestinian Authority (PA) could lead to a military confrontation, in which Israel "without a doubt" would emerge the victor.
Concurrently, Israel is said to have begun deploying heavy artillery to the West Bank and Gaza and to its Jewish settlements. PA officials reaffirmed their concern recently regarding the Israeli stockpile in the Occupied Territories. PA President Yasser Arafat sent several letters to the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and others, informing them of Israel's weapons build-up in the Occupied Territories and how it constitutes new dangers in the Middle East peace process.
Israel's exercise of its military might is by no means a rare practice. The question now is why the Israeli government has chosen to flex its muscle during a relative calmness in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, especially now that the PA remains a true believer in the prospect of peace.
Though many naturally expected that Israel's pullout of Lebanon would be sufficient to close the Lebanese chapter, Israel's withdrawal left a scarred Israeli army whose confidence and reputation was greatly damaged. The Israeli experience in Lebanon might have possibly ended politically and militarily, but the emotional damage is likely to manifest itself through the Israeli army's behavior in the Palestinian Territories.
Most Palestinians, on the other hand, were inspired by the Lebanese resistance's victory, a fact that could possibly lead to the adoption of Hizbollah-like guerilla warfare tactics in the future.
Another factor that explains Israel's growing Israeli military threats is the nature of the Israeli government's coalition, where a right wing Jewish presence is proving vital to save the government from collapse. These right-wing radicals who endlessly reject any agreement that compromises one inch of the "land of Israel" seem to be experiencing a golden age under Barak's government. A statement issued by Barak's office on June 21st indicated that instructions were given by Barak to his ministers to conduct regular visits to the settlements, so as to begin dialogue with the settlers' leaders. The Israeli Prime Minister's perception of the settlers as "good citizens with an important role in defending the security of Israel" explains Barak's insistence on maintaining the illegal settlements and vowing to protect them at any cost.
But there is also another reason for Israel's shipments of weapons to the West Bank and Gaza. A unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state by Arafat is indeed a worrisome prospect. Israel fears that such a state will be considered a green light for Palestinians to attack Jewish settlements and Israeli military posts.
The Israeli army's pileup of weapons and aggressive talk are evidently a result of several factors. Israel's humiliating defeat in Lebanon, the further radicalization of its government and its distrust of Arafat and the Palestinian people are a few components that have led them to open a new warfront with the Palestinians. Needless to say, Israel's militant approach to most of its problems is what sparked its nightmare in Lebanon. Israel's arrogance, stubbornness and rejection of a peaceful ending to this violent episode is what brought it down in Lebanon, and perhaps will someday happen in Palestine too.