JERUSALEM – Israel's tough restrictions on Palestinians have led to a rare public rift between the army and the government, with the nation's top military leader warning current policies will lead only to more violence.
The split, played out in Israeli newspapers over the past two days, highlights leaders' increasing frustration over their inability to end continuing attacks by Palestinian militant groups more than three years after the current violence began.
The measures, which have prevented Palestinians from reaching jobs, visiting family and tending their fields, have made them increasingly bitter.
"Closures, sieges and assassinations are adding to the complexities and widening the cycle of violence and counter-violence," Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said.
The dispute in Israel was set off by Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon (search), the army chief of staff, who argued the tough policies are increasing Palestinian hatred toward Israel and fostering sympathy for the very militant groups Israel is trying to destroy.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz (search) agreed only to a minor lifting of the travel bans and closures.
On Wednesday, newspapers carried interviews with a "senior military official," saying the government's policies were destructive, and that crushing militants was effective only if accompanied by peace negotiations. Hours later, a firestorm erupted when it was revealed that Yaalon was the official.
Mofaz and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were reportedly enraged. Sharon's close associates said Yaalon had gone too far, making it more difficult for Israel to defend its policies to the Americans, the Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported.
Sharon and Mofaz, acting on the advice of Israel's Shin Bet (search) security service, have favored leaving restrictions in place. The Shin Bet has warned that lifting them — and giving Palestinians greater freedom of movement — would increase the chances of terror attacks.
Yaalon, meanwhile, also accused the government of helping bring down former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas' pragmatic Cabinet by not making concessions that would have boosted his credibility.
The army also opposes the planned route for a security barrier that would dip deep into the West Bank and isolate Palestinian towns and villages, he was quoted as saying. That route would require vast numbers of soldiers to guard it and would make the lives of Palestinian farmers "unbearable," he reportedly said.
In addition, Yaalon said the Cabinet's decision to "remove" Yasser Arafat had only strengthened the Palestinian leader.
Israel's last chance to end the violence is to support Abbas' replacement, Ahmed Qureia, by easing restrictions, he reportedly said.
Yaalon's comments — a rare instance of such a high-ranking military official publicly criticizing the government — shocked many, especially because he has long been considered a hawk.
Vice Premier Ehud Olmert said Yaalon's comments were "blown out of all proportion."
"There are certainly different views in our establishment, even among defense officials," he told Israel Radio.
But his comments also inspired a debate among weary Israelis about the government's methods in ending the attacks that have killed nearly 900 Israelis in the past three years, along with more than 2,500 Palestinians.
Israel Hasson, a former deputy head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, said Israel's tactics for fighting terror have been successful but there is no clear strategy to end the cycle of violence.
"We haven't hurt the [terrorists'] motivation. We haven't succeeded. Maybe, we have even increased it," he told Army Radio.
Yaalon was called into Mofaz's office Wednesday, where he told the defense minister his comments were blown out of proportion, but apparently did not apologize, according to media reports.