- The leading Israeli historian Martin van Creveld predicts
that a US attack on Iraq or a terrorist strike at home could trigger a
massive mobilisation to clear the occupied territories of their two million
Two years ago, less than eight per cent of those who took part in a Gallup
poll among Jewish Israelis said they were in favour of what is euphemistically
called "transfer" - that is, the expulsion of perhaps two million
Palestinians across the River Jordan. This month that figure reached 44
- Ariel Sharon
- Earlier this year, when a journalist asked Ariel Sharon
whether he favoured such a move, the Israeli prime minister said he did
not think in such terms. A glance at his memoirs, however, shows that he
has not always been so fastidious.
In September 1970 King Hussein of Jordan fell on the Palestinians in his
kingdom, killing perhaps 5,000 to 10,000. The then Gen Sharon, serving
as Commanding Officer, Southern Front, argued that Israel's policy of helping
the king was a mistake; instead it should have tried to topple the Hashemite
He has often said since that Jordan, which, according to him, has a Palestinian
majority even now, is the Palestinian state. The inference - that the Palestinians
should go there - is clear.
During its 1948 War of Independence, Israel drove 650,000 Palestinians
from their homes into neighbouring countries. If it were to try something
similar today, the outcome could well be a regional war. More and more
people in Jerusalem believe that such is Mr Sharon's objective.
It might explain why Mr Sharon, famous for his ability to plan ahead, appears
not to have a plan. In fact, he has always harboured a very clear plan
- nothing less than to rid Israel of the Palestinians.
Few people, least of all me, want the following events to happen. But such
a scenario could easily come about. Mr Sharon would have to wait for a
suitable opportunity - such as an American offensive against Iraq, which
some Israelis think is going to take place in early summer.
Mr Sharon himself told Colin Powell, the secretary of state, that America
should not allow the situation in Israel to delay the operation.
An uprising in Jordan, followed by the collapse of King Abdullah's regime,
would also present such an opportunity - as would a spectacular act of
terrorism inside Israel that killed hundreds.
Should such circumstances arise, then Israel would mobilise with lightning
speed - even now, much of its male population is on standby.
First, the country's three ultra-modern submarines would take up firing
positions out at sea. Borders would be closed, a news blackout imposed,
and all foreign journalists rounded up and confined to a hotel as guests
of the Government.
A force of 12 divisions, 11 of them armoured, plus various territorial
units suitable for occupation duties, would be deployed: five against Egypt,
three against Syria, and one opposite Lebanon. This would leave three to
face east as well as enough forces to put a tank inside every Arab-Israeli
village just in case their populations get any funny ideas.
The expulsion of the Palestinians would require only a few brigades. They
would not drag people out of their houses but use heavy artillery to drive
them out; the damage caused to Jenin would look like a pinprick in comparison.
Any outside intervention would be held off by the Israeli air force. In
1982, the last time it engaged in large-scale operations, it destroyed
19 Syrian anti-aircraft batteries and shot down 100 Syrian aircraft against
the loss of one.
Its advantage is much greater now than it was then and would present an
awesome threat to any Syrian armoured attack on the Golan Heights.
As for the Egyptians, they are separated from Israel by 150 miles or so
of open desert. Judging by what happened in 1967, should they try to cross
it they would be destroyed.
The Jordanian and Lebanese armed forces are too small to count and Iraq
is in no position to intervene, given that it has not recovered its pre-1991
strength and is being held down by the Americans. Saddam Hussein may launch
some of the 30 to 40 missiles he probably has.
The damage they can do, however, is limited. Should Saddam be mad enough
to resort to weapons of mass destruction, then Israel's response would
be so "awesome and terrible" (as Yitzhak Shamir, the former prime
minister, once said) as to defy the imagination.
Some believe that the international community will not permit such an ethnic
cleansing. I would not count on it. If Mr Sharon decides to go ahead, the
only country that can stop him is the United States.
The US, however, regards itself as being at war with parts of the Muslim
world that have supported Osama bin Laden. America will not necessarily
object to that world being taught a lesson - particularly if it could be
as swift and brutal as the 1967 campaign; and also particularly if it does
not disrupt the flow of oil for too long.
Israeli military experts estimate that such a war could be over in just
eight days. If the Arab states do not intervene, it will end with the Palestinians
expelled and Jordan in ruins.
If they do intervene, the result will be the same, with the main Arab armies
destroyed. Israel would, of course, take some casualties, especially in
the north, where its population would come under fire from Hizbollah.
However, their number would be limited and Israel would stand triumphant,
as it did in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Are you listening Mr Arafat?
- Prof van Creveld is author of The Sword and the Olive;
a Critical History of the Israel Defence Force (New York, 1998). He lives
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