JERUSALEM (Jun. 20)
The appointment this week of Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai to head the Israel Defense Force central command will bring to the West Bank an IDF officer with more than a year’s experience riding herd on the Palestinian uprising in the Gaza Strip.
Mordechai will replace Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, who has been granted a year’s leave to study abroad. The date of the changeover has not been announced.
Mordechai is reputed to be a hard-liner who does not hesitate to take harsh measures to maintain order. He apparently has the full confidence of Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who has ultimate authority over military policy in the territories.
Mordechai’s appointment appears to signal that the IDF is determined to suppress the intifada by whatever means are necessary.
It is being seen by some as an attempt by Rabin to appease Jewish settlers in the territories, including Orthodox militants from the Hebron area and their political backers in Jerusalem.
But if the Palestinians have reason to fear Mordechai, the settlers, too, may have to watch their behavior. The general, it is said, will not tolerate civilian interference in army business.
In the Gaza Strip, he is credited with introducing the blanket curfew, magnetized identification cards for Arabs commuting into Israel proper and a massive changeover of auto license plates.
Rabin approved every measure he suggested. Still, the uprising has not been crushed in the Gaza Strip, where it originated on Dec. 9, 1987.
Conditions in the West Bank are more complicated. It is considerably larger in area than the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian population is widely dispersed among towns and villages, many of them remote and difficult to reach.
There are more than 60,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, compared to about 2,500 in the Gaza Strip.
Mordechai, it is said, would have preferred to have been assigned to the northern command, where he could leave the uprising behind and concentrate on the “real army work” of interdicting terrorist squads trying to infiltrate Israel from Lebanon.
He will be replaced in the Gaza Strip by Maj. Gen. Matan Vilnai, presently head of the manpower branch at IDF general headquarters.
Vilnai’s job will be filled by Brig. Gen. Ran Goren, deputy commander of the air force, who will be promoted to the rank of major general.