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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Analysis: Israel's new tactics
Israeli border police and soldiers outside Nablus
Israeli soldiers have moved back into West Bank towns
BBC News Online's Paul Reynolds

Israel has a new policy - land for peace.

It is not the old land for peace approach, the grand vision under which Israel would withdraw from most Palestinian territory in exchange for recognition and acceptance.

This time, in response to the latest bus bombing in Jerusalem, the process goes into reverse. Israel will occupy some Palestinian land, which probably means major towns and cities, and hold it until the bombings stop.

In effect, the Israelis are saying, if we have no peace, we take a piece of your land. And if there are more bombings, then more land will be taken. And on and on.

The logical outcome is that Israel will eventually re-occupy the whole of the West Bank. Gaza remains, for now, relatively quiet. But its turn could come if bombers emerge from there as well.

Flexibility

In the meantime, work on a fence to block off much of the West Bank continues.

The latest policy is something the Israelis had not planned. The major operation in the West Bank two months ago and the revolving door policy since of incursions and withdrawals was supposed to put an end to, or drastically reduce, suicide bombings.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
There is talk in Israel of sending some of Mr Arafat's men away
But that has not worked as well as had been hoped. So a progressive re-occupation is now the chosen way.

The Israeli cabinet has reportedly decided not to deport Yasser Arafat. That would attract too much diplomatic trouble. But there is talk of perhaps some lower ranking Palestinians being held or sent away.

The new policy is a classic Israeli approach. It is always worth remembering that Israel's military tactics, in wars both great and small, are based on flexibility.

Risks

It is something they learned from a sympathetic British officer in the 1930s, Orde Wingate. During Palestinian uprisings, he took the battle into the heartland of the other side. Israel is still doing that.

You will not find anywhere in Israel, the West Bank or the Golan Heights, a Maginot line of defensive positions. For Israel, defence means attack and defensive lines means static warfare.

Israeli soldier in Hebron during an earlier incursion
The Israeli army risks becoming overstretched
It is the same with this new policy. The old appears not to have worked - so develop a new one. And go on the offensive.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon built his reputation in such a way - along the old border with Jordan, in the wars with Egypt, in the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon - and the old leopard is not changing his spots.

This has obvious risks. The army will be stretched, although the intention appears not to call up reservists. It might not work, although it will make the bombers' task harder. It will expose more soldiers to retaliation. It will spur young militants to more violence.

And it raises the question - how long will it last? There is no immediate answer. There rarely is in the Middle East.

It will go on for as long as Mr Sharon considers it necessary. And then, if it needs to be changed, it will change.

Maybe, under international, especially American pressure, some new peace process will come forward. And Israeli public opinion might one day demand a peace settlement.

But not for now, it seems.


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