Sharon moves on to his next mission: eliminating terrorist gangs in the Gaza Strip. The turning point in the way terrorism is treated is the horrendous attack that takes place on January 2, 1971. A family of new immigrants from England – David and Pretty Arroyo and their two babies, Mark and Abigail – visit Gaza. They park their car in a main street and a minute later a terrorist throws a hand grenade through the open rear window. The babies are killed on the spot and their mom is severely wounded. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff Bar Lev assign Ariel Sharon, Head of the Southern Command, to eliminate the terror in the Gaza Strip. Sharon brings an elite force to Gaza and instructs his soldiers to thoroughly and systematically search the area and clear it from terrorists.
Sharon participates in these searches himself. He orders the soldiers to perform a full body search on all males and sometimes imposes curfews on refugee camps in order to conduct a search. The clear goal of the mission is finding terrorists and killing them. The soldiers have orders not to try and capture the terrorists alive. Sharon instructs them to be rough with the local population, to perform searches in the streets and even to strip suspects naked if necessary; to shoot to kill any Arab who holds a gun; to shoot to kill any Arab who does not obey a Stop! call; and to diminish the risk to their lives by employing a big volume of fire, by uprooting trees from orchards which makes it difficult to capture terrorists, by demolishing houses and driving out their owners to other houses in order to pave secure roads.
Haider Abd al-Shafi, Senior Palestinian Leader, says: “Sharon took a decision to open roads in Al Shateya camp and in Rafah for security. That led to removing houses, the houses of refugees, which is an action not to be taken lightly, but there was no objection neither from Dayan nor from the Israeli government. They let Sharon realize his aim and he really destroyed a lot of refugees’ houses.”
Eli Landau, political ally and a friend of Ariel Sharon, says: “He was a very senior officer going with the troops from house to house, from bunker to bunker, from orange grove to orange grove, to explain what he meant. Three months later, Gaza was quiet. The terror was crushed with an iron fist, with a vicious hand. He cast fear in Gaza, he was feared.”
For seven months Sharon and the soldiers operate and find weapons, ammunition, terrorists and documents containing plans of terrorist attacks against Israel. Between July 1971 and December 1971, 742 are killed and captured and terrorist attacks are virtually stopped: their rate drops from 34 in June 1971 to only one in December 1971.
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan publicly praises Ariel Sharon for eliminating the terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, some generals in the General Headquarters express discomfort regarding Sharon’s operating methods. From time to time representatives of the General Headquarters go to Gaza to investigate deaths of local Arabs. Brigadier Yitzhak Pundak, the Area Commander, disapproves of Sharon’s methods. He believes in improving the standard of living of the Gaza Strip population in order to facilitate co-existence between Arabs and Jews in Israel, which would gradually diminish terror. The Chief Commander in the field, Yizhak Abbadi, cooperates at first with Sharon’s tough policy, but in time realizes that it causes the population to be filled with rage against Israel. Abbadi hands Dayan his resignation and says he cannot cooperate any more with Sharon’s actions in the Gaza Strip.
Years later Sharon writes: “From 1968 on terror in Gaza Strip hit in an ever growing wave of atrocities, tortures and killings, meant to scare the public and persuade it not to cooperate with Israel or to benefit from the opportunities offered by the Israeli government, which completely changed the way of life in the Gaza Strip. From time to time terrorists would attack Israeli soldiers or civilians, but their main target was Arabs: ordinary people who worked or studied in Israel, who used the Israeli medical services, or simply those who wished to live their life peacefully.
“Busses and cabs that took Arab workers to Israel were bombed. Families were threatened and blackmailed. Arab prostitutes were systematically and mercilessly killed, based on rumors that they supply information to Israeli army intelligence. A whole web of violence strangled the life in the region.
Since this terror campaign aimed to terrorize the public, the killing squads of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, including the National Front, used the cruelest methods to kill their victims. None of us have seen anything like it before. Bodies were revealed daily – discarded, for everyone to see and beware, in a garbage site or in the center of town; mutilated bodies, clear evidence that the victims were tortured before they were killed.
Yet, however troubled I was by this issue, I just didn’t have the time to tackle it. More urgent issues – War of Attrition and the problems along the Arava region – claimed most of my time. When I did have the time to consider the situation in the Gaza Strip, I was always astounded by the complexity of the issue. There were many civilians there, plenty of hiding places and plenty of targets which could be easily hit by the terrorists. They could have hide in dense groves or blend in with the civilians. I had no idea how to even approach this.
“Early 1971 there was a cease fire along the Canal. The fortifications and road paving plan were almost complete, and we managed to bring some quiet to the Arava region. In the Gaza Strip, however, violence has increased tremendously and how to deal with it remained the bone of contention between Dayan and me. Yet on January 2, 1971 something happened that pushed Dayan to take action. That day a family of new immigrants from England – David and Pretty Arroyo and their two babies, Mark and Abigail – visited Gaza. Only a moment after parking their car in the street, a hand grenade was thrown into the backseat and exploded. The babies were instantly killed, and their mom severely wounded.
Shortly after the attack on the Arroyos, Dayan visited Refidim, as part of his inspection tours. I took him aside and told him: ‘Moshe, if we don’t take action now, we will lose control over the Gaza Strip. There’s no doubt about it.’ This time – after a year of bitter arguments – he didn’t argue at all. Dayan just looked at me and quietly said: ‘Go ahead.’
Sharon: “We knew that the PLO local HQs are hidden in underground bunkers and in groves and houses within the camps. We also knew, of course, that the PLO has to maintain communication channels between the HQs which were outside the Gaza Strip and the local HQs. And the local HQs had to maintain communication channels with their cell network. The key to their existence was, therefore, the movement in and out. When our intelligence began identifying some of the terrorists, I felt that if we take proper action, we can focus our efforts in tracing their movements, and then we would keep following them until we discover their bunkers and hiding places. I made a plan and at the same time gathered a relatively small number of elite infantry units, and started training the personnel to what I called ‘Guerilla Fighting against Terrorism’. First I dissected the Gaza Strip into small ‘squares’ – for example one mile by one mile or one mile by two miles. This partitioning was according to natural markers and border lines. To every square I assigned a number and a squad of troops. ‘Your square is your only concern’, I used to tell the soldiers, so they can overcome their doubts about accomplishing the goal. ‘Your duty is to know this area inside out, and your task is to locate every terrorist inside it and kill him.’
“As there were no books I could rely on, and no known procedures, I had to start from scratch, to improvise, and to teach while I’m still learning. In order to make sure that I made myself clear, I used to ignore the chain of command and talk directly to junior officers and to squad commanders. When I began to explain my ideas, I could sense in their questions the same despair I myself felt only months earlier. ‘Yes,’ they would say. ‘We are responsible for this square, but how exactly are we to find the terrorists?’
“‘Your main problem,’ I used to tell them, ‘is that you are city boys. You don’t know the difference between a lemon tree and a pomegranate tree. And this is exactly the things you should learn.’
“With these methods we soon developed in our infantry troops the skill to notice small details. For example, to pay attention in groves to ashes of a campfire that was covered in dirt. Usually, during lunchtime, the workers in the groves used to make a campfire, sit around it, make tea and share the food each brought along from home. Those who knew how to look for the right signs, could have seen were such a campfire was made. And there, in several spots, we noticed ashes of a campfire covered in sand or dirt. Why would anyone try to hide a campfire? We often found the answer nearby – a ventilation pipe of a bunker, where terrorists used to hide and go out every now and then. With time, though it was not easy, even complete city boys among our soldiers came to know the territory well. But even this was not enough.
Sharon: “To get more results, I have decided to operate soldiers that would be disguised as Arabs. Above all, this operation proved, at least to me, that terrorism is not unavoidable and that there is a solution to terrorism – a solution that can be implemented even by an army of a democratic state, which is confined by its social norms and by the rule of law.
“One day, in early February 1972, I was home watching the news on the television and on the screen appeared Moshe Dayan, in an interview. He declared that the measures that were taken by General Ariel Sharon in the Gaza Strip were most efficient, and that the campaign against the terrorists was an outstanding success. I was surprised. For Dayan, so I knew, almost never praised anyone, let alone publicly.”
On March 1970, Katyusha missiles are fired from Jordan to an Israeli chemical plant near the Dead Sea. Sharon gets the authorization of the General Headquarters and of the government to launch a punitive operation. IDF forces cross the Jordanian-Israeli border and capture the Jordanian territory from which the missiles were launched. United States intervenes and after a short session of negotiations Israel agrees to withdraw and Jordan commits itself to take actions that would prevent terrorist activity in the area.
Following his success in eliminating the terrorism in the Gaza Strip, Ariel Sharon wishes to create a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula by evacuating Bedouins from the northern Sinai and establishing Jewish settlements in their place. General Sharon carries out this plan without proper authorization by the government. He aggressively drives out Bedouins by demolishing houses, plugging water wells and fencing in lands, which force the Bedouins to leave the territory and move southward. In Israel there’s a public outcry against the Bedouins evacuation. Sharon defends his actions by saying that the northern Sinai is a terrorist base, in which weapons are accumulated and smuggled into the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Golda Meir publicly backs up Sharon, even though his actions were not authorized by the government or by the Chief of Staff. She declares: “… after it was clear that the evacuation of Arab inhabitants from the northern Sinai was carried out without authorization and without authoritative decision and in a fashion that is unaccepted in Israel, the Chief of Staff set up an investigation committee, even before the rallies and public protest. An evacuation plan was then authorized, which cost a lost of money, and my conscience is clear – landmines and death are worse than the evacuation of innocent people.” The Bedouins appeal to the High Court of Justice, but the Judges approve the position of the State, which is worded by Ariel Sharon himself. The evacuation is sanctioned.
On 1973, as part of Israeli preparations for the possibility of an Egyptian attempt to cross the Suez Canal and attack Israel, Ariel Sharon sets up a site on the eastern side of the canal, nicknamed the Backyard. From this site the Israeli forces would cross the Canal to the western side, should Egypt attack, in order to strike its forces from the rear. Sharon’s goal is to shift the future battle zone to the Egyptian territory as quickly as possible.