Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

The Arab Attitude toward Israel's 2005 Unilateral Disengagement: A First-Hand Account from an Israeli Insider

Academic journal article Jewish Political Studies Review

The Arab Attitude toward Israel's 2005 Unilateral Disengagement: A First-Hand Account from an Israeli Insider

Article excerpt


Israels disengagement from the Gaza Strip had undeniable consequences for the Arab world, including the Palestinians, but those consequences were not taken into account in the process leading to the dramatic decision. In this essay, I shall provide my own reflections as former head of the Research Division of Military Intelligence at that time when the fateful decision of the disengagement was made. It is noteworthy that intelligence professionals were not consulted in the process at all and their assessment was not requested before the decision was taken. Instead, a small group of decision-makers carried out this plan. Their attitude and thinking suffered from a number of weaknesses characteristic of Western political and strategic thought in the region.

I also will show that the Arabs had mixed responses to the disengagement. Each player, including the different groups in the Palestinian political system, emphasized what was important to its own outlook and interests.

On the one hand, the disengagement was perceived as an achievement of the Palestinian struggle and as a positive precursor to an eventual Israeli withdrawal from parts of the disputed territories in the Land of Israel/Palestine. The precedent of the withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 opened the way for similar moves in the future. It is important to note that the decision to pursue disengagement was taken at a time when Palestinian terrorist activities, including the area of the Gaza Strip, reached their highest levels. Thus, from the Arab point of view, it exposed the failure of Israeli society to cope effectively with that challenge. This perspective is further supported by the fact that the actual disengagement was implemented at a time, toward the undeclared end of the Second Intifada, when terrorist activities slowly began to subside. In addition, the policy of terrorism failed to produce long-term gains for the Palestinians who regarded their campaign as ultimately ineffective because it came at a heavy price and yielded no tangible results. Nonetheless, the Palestinian leadership appropriated the disengagement and used it as a sign of success in their otherwise futile struggle to motivate other radical actors in the region. The disengagement may have been one of the factors that encouraged Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Hizbullah, to intensify his efforts to carry out an additional kidnapping. This eventually materialized in July 2006 when two soldiers were kidnapped-an act that led to the Second Lebanon War. Later Nasrallah admitted that it was a mistake.

Whereas the radical actors of the Palestinian leadership celebrated the disengagement as a victory, its more pragmatic elements regarded it as problematic. They feared that it would further fuel terrorism and hence harm internal stability within the Palestinian political leadership. Given that the leadership was going through a period of internal strife and instability, they felt that the disengagement might further complicate relations with their political opponents and that they would be forced to cooperate with the extremist factions.

In the neighboring region, the disengagement created far-reaching consequences particularly for Egypt, which-in light of Israels decision to evacuate the border area, the Philadelphi Route-was forced to come to terms with Latah and Hamas and allow increased smuggling from Sinai to Gaza, particularly by Hamas. Moreover, at the time, Egypt suffered domestically from increasing Islamic terror, especially in Sinai. (Before the disengagement a mass-casualty attack took place in Sharm el-Sheikh on 23 July 2005 and Egypt convened an Arab summit to discuss the disengagement and the terror attacks.)1


Concurrently, the Palestinians claimed the disengagement as an achievement and felt vindicated by the dismantlement of the settlements and the Israel Defense Forces' departure from the Gaza Strip. …

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