Israel's former top soldier sets his sights on West Bank control
Raphael (Raful) Eitan, a primary architect of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, has set his sights on finalizing Israeli control over the West Bank. The controversial ex-chief of staff announced in October that he will head a new movement called Tzomet. This literally means ''intersection'' in Hebrew and is an acronym meaning ''renewed Zionism.'' Its primary purpose will be to encourage Jewish settlement on the West Bank and Jewish immigration to Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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Unlike previous chiefs of staff who immediately entered party politics or became captains of industry, Mr. Eitan, a carpenter by trade, has retired to a village in biblical Jezreel Valley, a strategic center of decisive battles for the domination of Palestine.
Interviewed a few months ago at his modest bungalow - neatly cluttered with military memorabilia - Eitan himself is a direct, unpretentious man. He is short and stocky, with tufted eyebrows that accentuate attentive and piercing eyes. He comes from the ''moshav'' agrarian tradition of rugged individualism and private responsibility for working the land.
The controversial ex-chief of staff views the West Bank as an integral part of historical Israel. He says it is critical to the nation's defense. ''We waged the war for Beirut to eradicate the PLO's strength on the North Bank [southern Lebanon] . . . [and] to settle things on the West Bank,'' he said.
Eitan argues that the best way for Israel to overwhelm Palestinian nationalism would be to settle the West Bank intensively so its Arab occupants would be stunned into acquiescence ''like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.''
Tzomet, whose popularity is growing, emerges at a time when many Israelis are questioning the settlement of the predominantly Arab-populated West Bank. According to a poll published Wednesday in the daily Haaretz, 48 percent of Israelis oppose the establishment of new settlements, with 37 percent in favor. Previous polls had shown wide support for the government's program, which it has intensified. Critics term the process de facto annexation.
Like the settlement policy, Eitan himself remains controversial. A commando leader of legendary bravery on the battlefield, he was regarded as an unsophisticated but thoroughly professional soldier. A taciturn disciplinarian, he was deeply respected by the soldiers he commanded but was never regarded as a potential chief of staff. But he emerged as a hero during the 1973 war and was promoted to major general. In 1978, he was appointed chief of staff.
Setting new standards of discipline, he imposed a strict dress code. He instituted rigorous budget restrictions, even insisting that the copper casings of bullets be recycled. Eitan reduced training casualties by 40 percent. Perhaps his most notable accomplishment was a special education program that affected more than 10,000 recruits, known as ''Rafulnakim'' (those of Raful), who previously would have been considered unsuitable for the Army.
He surprised almost everyone by becoming one of Israel's most politicized chiefs of staff. Soon after assuming the post, he issued a declaration affirming Israel's right to the West Bank. And he began appointing high-level officers whose views were similar to his own.
West Bank settlers were urged to set up their own self-defense units, were supplied with official Army weapons, and were allowed to do their own policing. Eitan termed this the time-honored Zionist policy of territorial self-defense. But he went further, tolerating occasional provocation against local Arabs. Illegal Jewish settlers were not only spared prosecution, but also were sheltered in Army camps.