TEL AVIV – The Israeli army is “up in arms” regarding an order issued yesterday by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to remove a series of West Bank security checkpoints that regularly stop terrorists from infiltrating Jewish cities, according to military officials.
In accordance with promises made to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a summit this weekend, Olmert instructed the IDF to remove 49 West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints. Twenty-seven roadblocks are to be removed immediately, and the rest within about a week, subject to a final decision by government officials.
Olmert also instructed IDF soldiers to not thoroughly examine every vehicle at 16 of the West Bank’s largest roadblocks. Vehicle examinations usually cause long delays at the checkpoints.
Olmert said the moves were aimed at bolstering Abbas at a time when his Fatah party is engaging in infighting with rival Hamas factions. Abbas last weekend called for new Palestinian elections in a move widely seen as attempting to dismantle the Hamas-led government.
Palestinians say the West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints are degrading. They complain of waiting in long lines to pass through West Bank cities.
But according to IDF statistics, upwards of 60 percent of all attempted suicide bombings are stopped at the checkpoints. Israeli soldiers routinely catch Palestinians at checkpoints en route to central Israel with explosives or suicide belts. Many of the terrorists are caught during vehicle inspections.
At a meeting yesterday, Olmert told the heads of Israel’s major security services he hopes the checkpoints will be dismantled by the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, which takes place next week.
“My hope is that by the Id al-Adha holiday, the Palestinian population will feel a significant improvement in the fabric of their lives,” Olmert said at the meeting.
The Israeli security establishment largely opposes the roadblock removals, saying their dismantlement will likely lead to an increase in terror attacks.
Yair Naveh, head of the IDF’s central command, which protects access to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, said Olmert’s checkpoint removal order damages Israel’s security.
“These are risks that we cannot allow ourselves,” Naveh reportedly Olmert at a meeting. “You’re making your calculations and taking away from me one of my capabilities.”
Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky and Ido Nechushtan, head of the IDF planning department, both echoed Naveh’s remarks.
Military officials told WND the removal of roadblocks in the past directly resulted in an increase in terrorism.
“The checkpoints work. It’s that simple. It’s how we stop most terrorism,” a military official told WND.
Leftist groups here hailed Olmert’s the plan to dismantle the roadblocks.
Danny Rothschild, chairman of the Israel-based Council for Peace and Security, told the Ynetnews website “the people of Israel can take such a (security) risk if they want to bolster Abu Mazen (Abbas).”
The military official speaking to WND said even though the IDF is “up in arms” at Olmert’s order, the army is preparing to implement the decision to remove the checkpoints.
Don’t stop terror rockets, says Olmert
The roadblock removals are just the latest Olmert directive the IDF says is damaging Israel’s security.
As WND reported yesterday Olmert this weekend rejected a plan by military leaders here to allow the IDF to take out Palestinian militants it catches in the process of launching rockets from the Gaza Strip into nearby Jewish cities.
Following a cease-fire imposed in Gaza Nov. 26, Olmert has restrained the IDF from taking any defensive measures to stop the regular firing of Palestinian Qassam rockets into Israeli communities.
Since the truce went into effect, more than 60 rockets were fired from Gaza.
This morning, five rockets landed in Jewish areas near the Gaza Strip. One landed in Ashkelon, a strategic port city that is home to important gas lines and one of Israel’s largest power generators.
On Monday, the IDF spotted militants in the northern Gaza Strip setting up rocket launchers, military sources told WND. Two rockets then were fired into Israel.
The IDF several times last week also spotted militants in the process of launching rockets but the military was unable to take any action. Olmert’s government changed the rules of engagement following the cease-fire. Now, if Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are caught launching rockets at Jewish cities, the Israeli military is forbidden to respond.
Previously, the IDF used artillery units and aerial strikes against militants discovered in the process of launching rockets.
“We are frustrated just watching the rocket launchers being set up. There is nothing we are allowed to do,” said a military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.
“So far we’ve been lucky, but soon one of the rockets will kill someone and then questions should be asked about why we weren’t allowed to do anything,” the source said.
Military leaders told WND defense officials, backed by Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, this past weekend petitioned Olmert at a security cabinet meeting to ease some of the limitations on the army and to allow the military to take out Palestinian rocket crews in Gaza it catches setting up for attacks.
The military leaders said Olmert rejected the plan, stating he had confidence Abbas would act against the Gaza rocket crews.
Olmert said his policy of restraint in the face of Palestinian cease fire violations would continue to “give peace a chance,” according to the military leaders, who were present at the meeting.
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