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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 15:20 GMT
Analysis: Sniper stuns Israeli army
Some checkpoints have already been dismantled
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By Jonathan Marcus
The BBC's defence correspondent

Sunday morning's attack on an Israeli checkpoint near Ramallah has raised serious questions about the Israeli army's tactics.

"A massive blunder and a disgrace for the IDF," wrote Ze'ev Schiff, one of Israel's leading defence commentators, describing the incident in Monday's Ha'aretz newspaper.

Ten Israelis were killed - seven of them soldiers - in the attack at an army checkpoint north of the Jewish settlement of Ofra.

Even in such an unequal battle, daring and low-tech weaponry can easily achieve local victory

They were apparently shot at by a lone Palestinian sniper using an outdated carbine. After wounding another five people, the Palestinian escaped.

One incident does not alter the military balance in this unequal struggle - Israel retains an extraordinary technological advantage in terms of both weaponry and intelligence-gathering systems.

But Sunday's incident demonstrates that even in such an unequal battle, daring and low-tech weaponry can easily achieve local victory.

Heavy casualties

Seven other Israeli soldiers have been killed in attacks at checkpoints in recent weeks. And just two weeks ago an Israeli Merkava tank - one of the most modern weapons in the country's arsenal - was destroyed by a massive mine in the Gaza Strip.

In fact this has been one of the most costly episodes for the Israelis throughout the 17-month-old conflict - over a 24-hour period at the weekend, 21 lost their lives.

The accumulation of such incidents suggests some wider failure, perhaps a growing complacency, a predictability in operational procedures.

Israeli tank
Israel has far more sophisticated weaponry than the Palestinians
Questions are certainly being asked within the Israeli high command. But many commentators believe that Sunday's incident reflected a more fundamental failing.

Some 10 days ago, the Israeli commander in the West Bank ordered most of the fixed checkpoints on roads to be removed - in part because such semi-permanent positions provided Palestinian fighters with easy targets.

Some fixed checkpoints have now been dismantled. But Sunday's attack rubbed in the lesson once again.

And with an escalating death toll on both sides there is again talk of the fighting erupting into a full-scale war.

See also:

04 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel to step up military operations
03 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel on the defensive
04 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel storms refugee camps
15 Feb 02 | Middle East
Tank tactic shocks Israel
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