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Thursday, 2 November, 2000, 15:51 GMT
The Israeli army's dilemma
Israeli Defence Force
The Israeli Defence Force are being criticised from all sides
By BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala

The violence that has erupted in Israel and the Palestinian territories has left the Israeli military deeply frustrated and confused.

The army is suffering casualties, three on 1 November alone, while being criticised from all sides.

Internationally, the army is accused of war crimes and brutality. Domestically, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is criticised for doing too little to protect Israelis.

The dilemma can be simply stated - should the IDF be attempting to contain the violence, or should it be taking stronger military action to attempt to bring it to an end.

War or no war

So far, the Israeli army has been trying to contain the violence within Palestinian areas.

Hiding Palestinian protesters
The number of Palestinian casualties has shocked many
The number of Palestinian deaths, more than 170 after five weeks, has shocked many.

But the military operation could have been far more severe.

The army has been criticised by some in Israel for its limited shelling of areas from which they or Israelis have come under fire.

Raids from Israeli helicopter gunships have attempted to target only the sources of Palestinian fire, and symbolic targets such as the Palestinian radio station, police stations, and administrative offices.

An operation intended to end, rather than contain, the violence would deploy far greater firepower, no doubt leaving many more dead.

Criticism from all sides

Some Israelis have criticised the IDF for its restraint. In particular the army has been criticised for not going to the aid of stranded settlers and soldiers more quickly.

Palestinian gunner
The IDF has come under fire from Palestinian gunmen
Also the army has been criticised for firing away from built-up Palestinian areas, occasionally the source of gunfire, in an attempt to avoid civilian casualties. This said, Palestinian residential areas have been shelled on several occasions.

Internationally, the disparity in the numbers of Palestinian and Israeli deaths has led to accusations of excessive use of force.

The use of live rounds and rubber coated bullets against demonstrators armed with stones has in particular been denounced.

Human rights groups have said that some IDF actions could constitute war crimes.

Perceived weakness

The IDF's confusion is, some Israeli analysts argue, being read as a sign of weakness by Palestinians.

According to this line of thinking, the Israeli army's withdrawal from Lebanon back in May illustrated that it is not invincible.

Similarly, some are arguing that the failure so far of the IDF to halt the violence allows Palestinian protesters and gunmen to believe that what is being called the Jerusalem Intifada (uprising) can defeat Israel.

Taking the gloves off

Reports suggest that on the night of 1 November, after the killing of three soldiers, the IDF had been given permission to launch a far more intense campaign against Palestinian protesters and gunmen.

This, the reports suggest, would have been a kind of operation designed to try and end the violence rather than simply to contain it.

The IDF was prevented from launching the operation by the success of the intervention of former Prime Minister Shimon Peres and renewed attempts to implement the Sharm al-Sheikh understanding.

If this understanding does not hold, analysts warn, the army will be let off its leash.

This would ultimately be a political decision, and would lie in the hands of Israeli Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Ehud Barak.

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See also:

02 Nov 00 | Middle East
Nine die in Mid-East clashes
01 Nov 00 | Middle East
Israel 'may be guilty of war crimes'
01 Nov 00 | Middle East
Shimon Peres: Back at centre stage
31 Oct 00 | Middle East
Israeli hardliner vows to topple Barak
31 Oct 00 | Middle East
Rockets blast Arafat offices
30 Oct 00 | Media reports
Barak and Sharon slug it out
31 Oct 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Israel's new military strategy
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