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The Reliability of Local Security Forces in the West Bank and Afghanistan

By Dr. Ehud Eilam
JINSA Visiting Fellow

States are evaluated through many parameters, the economic factor being a major one. Thus, the Palestinian Authority (PA) - judged by its economic progress in recent years - is almost a state, while Afghanistan is barely one.

Another major criterion for assessing a state is its national security. How do the PA and its counterpart in Afghanistan measure up?

In September 2011, the PA plans to request that the United Nations recognize it as a state. Israel opposes this Palestinian move, but does not wish the PA to fail as a representative of the Palestinians. Similarly in Afghanistan, Western powers, led by the United States, strive to help the Kabul government stay on its feet.

Ensuring the survival of both the PA and the Afghan government requires reliable local security forces capable of imposing law and order and confronting a powerful internal rival: Hamas for the PA, and the Taliban for the Afghan government. In fact, the effectiveness of those security forces will determine the future of the PA and the Afghan government.

The PA might permit protests in the West Bank calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but it does not seek to lose control over those events. Israel might assist the PA by cooperating with the Palestinian security forces, as it has been doing for several years now, as long as there is no declaration of a Palestinian state. Israel's aim would continue to be the same: preserving the PA's fragile stability in the West Bank, lest it falls into the hands of Hamas as did the Gaza Strip in 2007.

The mission of the Western forces in Afghanistan and the local security units there is quite similar: maintain the Afghan government's control, weak as it might be, over as much of the country as possible.

Both the Palestinian and Afghan security forces were created and financed by Western countries, led by the United States. The Palestinian and Afghan security forces have an advantage that other militaries, such as the IDF and the U.S. armed forces, don't have. They need not be prepared for a conventional war. Their focus is on overcoming guerrilla tactics and terror, a formidable task in itself, but one that does not require learning how to use sophisticated weapon systems such as jets and tanks, since low intensity war is based on infantry warfare. It is, therefore, relatively easier and faster to train the Palestinian and Afghan security forces.

The Palestinian political maneuver in the UN is a risk that might cause unrest within the PA and a collision with Israel that could bring down the PA.

Prior to the "Second Intifada" that erupted in September 2000, Israel had cooperated with the PA. Yet, some Palestinian officers attacked their Israeli counterparts. Israel therefore cannot predict what would happen in the near future. Will Palestinian officers continue to work with Israeli security forces? Will they neglect their duties, be indifferent, or even turn against Israel?

The United States has similar concerns about Afghan officers and troops, and this is a dilemma that could get worse in a time of severe crisis.

Although Israel is deeply aware of what could occur in September 2011, and the Israeli security forces are vastly prepared, Israel hopes it can rely on the Palestinian security forces to carry out their job without the presence of Israeli security forces.

The extent of Israel's trust in the Palestinian security forces would have a major influence on Israel's decisions in the future. Even if in the upcoming weeks and months the Palestinians security forces prove themselves worthy of Israel's trust, they would have to continue maintaining a high level of professionalism. They would also need to reassure Israel they can prevent areas of the West Bank from becoming a springboard for assaults against Israelis.

The case of the Gaza Strip serves as an example. After a brutal fight in the Gaza Strip from September 2000 to the summer of 2005, Israel evacuated this area, but two years later Hamas, seized it from the Palestinian Authority, and remade it into a base for terrorist attacks against Israel. It was Egypt that trained the Palestinian security forces in the Gaza Strip, yet in the summer of 2007 those forces crumbled in a matter of days.

Similarly, the United States wishes that subsequent to its withdrawal from Afghanistan the country does not return to its former status as a base for attacks against America. The United States will do her best in Afghanistan but when all is said and done, after an American withdrawal the local security forces must take over, hopefully not collapsing as the South Vietnamese military did in 1975.

All in all, the strength of the Palestinian and Afghan forces defending their regimes would determine the future of the PA and Afghanistan, with all the implications this has on the interests of Israel and the United States.

Ehud Eilam (Ph.D), JINSA Visiting Fellow, is a lecturer and researcher of Israel's national security and IDF doctrine. For more information on the JINSA Visiting Fellows program, click here.

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