Amjad Sakari made no effort to hide his feelings and intentions towards Israel. The soldier in the Palestinian security forces filled his Facebook page with paeans to Saddam Hussein. Last weekend he published two posts indicating his imminent plan to carry out a terrorist attack.
In other words, if the PA forces he served had been serious about preventing their members from carrying out terrorist attacks, they could have easily prevented Sakari from driving to an IDF checkpoint between Ramallah and Beit El Sunday morning, opening fire and wounding three soldiers – one critically. Sakari, who was killed in the course of his attack, was the third member of the US-backed PA security forces who engaged in terrorism in the past two months.
On December 3, Mazen Ariba, an officer in the PA’s US-sponsored Preventive Security Forces opened fire on Israelis at the Hizma checkpoint north of Jerusalem. Ariba wounded two Israelis – one critically – before he was shot and killed.
Ariba, was PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat’s nephew. Erekat made a very public condolence call to Ariba’s home. Ariba was posthumously hailed as a hero.
Two weeks ago, the Shin Bet arrested Ala’a Barkawi, an officer in the PA’s US-supported intelligence services. Barkawi was a member of a three-man terror cell that carried out a shooting attack against IDF forces operating in Tulkarm earlier last month.
Sunday night Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu demanded that PA President Mahmoud Abbas condemn the terrorism carried out by forces operating under his command. Abbas rejected Netanyahu’s demand and instead doubled down in supporting terrorism.
According to Channel 2, in US-mediated discussions between the two leaders, Abbas demanded that Israeli hand over Sakari’s body.
The IDF’s relationship with the Palestinian security forces is becoming a source of concern. The now five month old Palestinian terror campaign is entering a new phase, with direct attacks inside Israeli communities becoming a new major threat.
While many commanders on the ground in Judea and Samaria hold few illusions about the long-term viability of their cooperation with their US-trained Palestinian counterparts, senior IDF commanders serve as their greatest advocates and apologists. Following the murders of Dafna Meir and Shlomit Krigman late last week, the IDF’s senior commanders insisted yet again that Israel must do nothing to harm the PA security forces.
Sakari’s attack didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.
In a radio interview Monday morning, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon reported that Palestinian forces foil about twenty percent of the terror plots. In so proclaiming the day after a Palestinian security officer gunned down three IDF troops, Yaalon made clear that the IDF will change nothing in its cooperative position towards them.
For their part, almost immediately after word got out that Sakari served in the PA forces, senior IDF commanders set out to control the damage. Sakari, they told reporters, was but a marginal figure in an unimpressive unit. He did not serve in any of the seven battalions deployed to the Palestinian population centers that were trained by the US military in Jordan. His actions, they insisted, were not indicative of a wider phenomenon within the PA security forces.
Both Yaalon and his senior commanders were doubtlessly telling the truth. But that doesn’t mean that all is well with the PA security forces.
Sakari served as a driver for the PA’s General Prosecutor Ahmed Hanoun. As such, he may have been a member of an unimportant unit, although certainly he had access to some of the most senior members of the PA. But as intelligence officers, Ariba and Barkawi were members of the core of the forces.
But in the final analysis, whether or not Ariba, Barkawi and Sakari were important operatives is beside the point. The main problem with the Palestinian security forces is that by their very nature, they are inherently hostile to Israel and supportive of terrorism.
PA forces are commanded by terrorists from Fatah and other affiliated PLO terror groups. The tens of thousands of men under arms in these forces are recruited from these terrorist groups.
The Palestinian Authority which they serve itself supports terrorism. On a practical level, as Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely relayed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, the PA spends 16 percent of its donor financed annual budget paying salaries to terrorists jailed in Israeli prisons and stipends to their families. Moreover, the PA’s heroes are all terrorists. Its media and school system daily incite Palestinians to take up arms against Israelis and murder them. Murad Adais, who murdered Dafna Meir in her home in Otniel two weeks ago told investigators that he decided to murder Jews after watching incendiary PA media broadcasts.
In trusting the security cooperation they receive from the PA, our military leaders are mistaking inputs for outputs. That is, they assume that because they receive cooperation from these forces, these forces are inherently friendly. But again, the opposite is the case.
The PA is cooperating with the IDF today for two reasons. First, at present, Abbas believes that he has more to gain from cooperating with Israel than he does from Hamas. Second, at present, Abbas controls the bulk of his forces.
Both of these variables are likely to change, and Israel can do nothing to keep them constant.
In the past, both Abbas and his predecessor Yassir Arafat assessed at various points that they were better off cooperating with Hamas against Israel than with Israel against Hamas. Their decisions in 1996, from 2000 to 2007, and intermittently ever since, have had little to do with Israel’s positions. Indeed, their shifts from Israel to Hamas have often occurred at times when Israel did the most to support them.
As for Abbas’s control over his forces, this too can change on a dime. For years, Palestinian sources have insisted that these forces feel no intrinsic loyalty to Abbas. They stay with Abbas because he pays them.
Ideologically, these men under arms are free floaters. Nothing they believe is a bar for shifting their loyalties to Hamas. More to the point, all the US financial transfers to the PA security forces won’t stop any of the US-trained Palestinian forces from moonlighting as Hamas, Fatah or Hezbollah terrorists. They’ve done it in the past and they will do it again.
The instrumental, and necessarily temporary nature of Palestinian security cooperation with the IDF tells us three things.
First, the IDF needs to ditch its current counterterror strategy which is based on the wrongheaded assumption that we can rely on the PA security forces. Central Command needs to develop contingency plans for neutralizing these forces. These contingency plans don’t need to be made public. But to the extent that aspects of the plans can be quietly implemented, they should be implemented as quickly as possible.
Second, IDF commanders need to stop praising these hostile forces. At some point in the not so distant future the IDF will be required to fight these forces. When that day comes, the IDF’s enthusiastic tributes to their great cooperation with these terror-supporting forces will come back to haunt us. How will we be able to explain why our actions are necessary to allies to whom we have praised these hostile forces? This brings us to the final thing we need to recognize about these Palestinian forces. It was a major strategic blinder for Israel to support the US’s decision to train them. By supporting the US training program, Israel has given the US an incentive to deny the hostile nature of these forces.
Even worse than guaranteeing that the US will be unwilling to accept that in training these forces its military built a terror army, is that threat these forces pose. Today seven US-trained Palestinian combat battalions are deployed close to Israel’s major urban centers. Their fighting skills far surpass anything Israel has had to deal with in campaigns to date against Palestinian terror onslaughts.
As IDF commanders have warned over the years, due to the American training these terror-supporting anti-Israel forces have received, they can overrun small Israeli communities. They can carry out mass terror onslaughts in larger ones, on both sides of the armistice lines.
Following Sakari’s attack, Monday morning the IDF encircled Ramallah, barring non-residents from entering the city. The move was first announced by Palestinian security forces. So clearly the IDF coordinated the move with them before implementing it.
It is all well and good that the Palestinians continue to cooperate with the IDF, to the extent that the do. But Sakari’s attack must serve as a wake-up call. The defense establishment needs to quit relying on and praising this cooperation.
Because it will end. And if we are not prepared, the end will be very bad for Israel, and for the IDF.
A version of this piece previously appeared on The Jerusalem Post.