Operation Defensive Shield Launched, 2002
On This Day in Jewish History: March 29, 2002
On this day, 2002, Israel launched a large-scale military operation to stop terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada. The Second Intifada was a Palestinian uprising against Israel in which Palestinian protesters and militia engaged in a series of deadly attacks against Israeli civilians and police. One of these attacks was the Passover massacre, in which Palestinian Hamas terrorists massacred 30 and injured 140 Jewish Israeli civilians during a Passover seder in Netanya. It was the deadliest massacre against Israelis in the Second Intifada and the pinnacle of a bloody month in which 135 Israeli civilians were murdered. Resultantly, Israel declared a state of emergency and launched Operation Defensive Shield. It was the largest military operation in the West Bank since the Six-Day War. It was aimed to be the attack to end all attacks; 30,000 reserve soldiers were called, which was the largest call-up since the First Lebanon War. Ariel Sharon, the then-Prime Minister of Israel, ordered "to catch and arrest terrorists and, primarily, their dispatchers and those who finance and support them; to confiscate weapons intended to be used against Israeli citizens; to expose and destroy facilities and explosives, laboratories, weapons production factories and secret installations. The orders are clear: target and paralyze anyone who takes up weapons and tries to oppose our troops, resists them or endangers them—and to avoid harming the civilian population." Following Sharon and the Knesset’s orders, Israeli soldiers entered Palestinian cities and refugee camps in which terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, resided. One of the Palestinian refugee camps, Jenin, was a central base for these groups’ activities. On April 2, more than 1,000 IDF soldiers instructed Jenin’s civilians to leave in order to enter the city, launching what is now called the “Battle of Jenin.” Upon entry, the Israeli military discovered that 2,000 bombs and booby traps were planted throughout the camp. Armored bulldozers were then used to extract booby traps, which neutralized Jihadist commander Mahmoud Tawalbe in the process. As the IDF’s bulldozer methods began to halt Palestinian resistance, Palestinians spread an allegation of genocide in Jenin to put pressure on the IDF to halt the operation. The claims of a massacre of 500 Palestinian civilians and mass graves being dug by Israeli soldiers were proven false after a United Nations investigation. The Hawashin area eventually surrendered, ultimately ending the Battle of Jenin with an Israeli victory. Operation Defensive Shield had several important ramifications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as for the international community. Firstly, the operation led to a decrease in terror attacks for some time. In 2003, there were only 25 terror attacks in Israel compared to 56 in 2002. 2003 also saw a 35 percent drop in the number of fatalities from 220 deaths in 2002 to 142 deaths resulting from suicide bombings. Furthermore, the operation led to worldwide criticism of Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In his speech about the operation, Ariel Sharon exposes Arafat for rejecting efforts to reach a cease-fire with Israel and refusing compromise. Sharon made it clear that Israel is now in a war with terror, and would hold Arafat responsible for his actions. He also calls Arafat a threat to freedom, democracy, and peace in the Middle East. Sharon had therefore painted Arafat as not only a problem of Israel, but of other democracies as well such as the United States. Lastly, the operation debunked Hezbollah and Hamas’ narrative of Israel as a paper warrior: The operation tightened security measures for the state, and Israeli intelligence consequently grew to avoid up to 90 percent of terrorist attacks. Though the Operation did not stop the 10% of terrorist attacks from the West Bank, it was an influential turning point in the Second Intifada and it remains a notorious example of counterinsurgency in modern warfare.