Analysis / A Campaign of Calculation

Matan Vilnai was head of the Southern Command, the main force behind the the Gaza Battalion, when Doron Almog, currently holding the post, was a division commander.

Matan Vilnai was head of the Southern Command, the main force behind the the Gaza Battalion, when Doron Almog, currently holding the post, was a division commander.

Yisrael Ziv, currently a division commander, was commander of the Northern Brigade in Gaza and at the same time commander of the Southern Battalion of reserve paratroopers - the very same division whose soldiers were drafted on emergency callup yesterday.

Vilnai recently lost his membership of the cabinet through a decision by Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer. He remained as an observer, without power to vote, and his reservations about the forthcoming campaign did nothing to reduce the number of votes in favor. If today there is no accumulation of a critical mass of reservist resentment and American opposition - there is still time and the conditions exist - the plans will receive final authorization and will be executed.

In Ariel Sharon's government, with a chief of staff eager to get as much done as possible before the end of his term, Ben-Eliezer's cooperation with the militants above and below him is enough to ensure the campaign's approval. The minority with reservations, such as Vilnai in the government, generals in the chiefs of staff and division commanders on the ground are forced to moderate their criticism of the campaign.

The success of Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank together with staunch American support for Israel put the idea of a campaign in Gaza back on the map (the idea, not the planning from last month, which has since been changed).

Only last week, with Yasser Arafat still in his compound and United Nations investigators on the way to Jenin, such a campaign would not have been possible. After the diplomatic front quietened down, President Bush not only gave Sharon a green light, he uprooted the traffic lights. The explosives which blew the walls out of the Rishon Letzion gambling club tore open a window of opportunity for the soon to be ex chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz.

The recipe is simple. Find the connection between a multiple casualty attack and the territories, and call up reservists who will come willingly. But this time something went wrong.

The connection between the Rishon attack and the Hamas in Gaza is not definite - the Shin Bet and military intelligence believe, but don't know absolutely, that the suicide bomber left Gaza some time ago, as did the orders for the attack, but the explosives came from somewhere else.

The shock in Israel after the Passover massacre was more real and widespread than after the Rishon attack, which was similar in scale to other urban and bus attacks that did not lead to a major offensive in the territories. It was not boiling anger over the Rishon attack that led to the planned campaign, but rather cold calculations.

There are targets, there is a justification, the diplomatic circumstances are convenient, and it's better to carry it out today and not in a few weeks or months in different circumstances.

"Defensive Shield" was perceived as a no choice campaign and the emergency call up was perceived as a necessity. The Gaza campaign is seen in a completely different light, a campaign of choice.

We can get by with it or without it and therefore the call up of reserves is also seen as a matter of choice and this time is arousing opposition. As in the campaign in the West Bank a month-and-a-half ago, the IDF is using its strategic back up, the reservists, but this time, at least in part, its strategic reserve is voicing opposition.

The IDF talked yesterday of "shaping a new security reality" - yesterday in the West Bank and tomorrow in Gaza - that would enable the army to "go in and out at will, with freedom of operation and without civilian responsibility."

To achieve this, the chiefs of staff said, defense is not enough. The army is not large enough to prevent those behind the fence from jumping over it from time to time. Attack, they added, even if it doesn't hit terror hard, won't just be "uprooting trees," rather "mowing the lawn" - a short lived operation.

Therefore, above the rolling of the tanks, could be heard the voice of ministers, officers and reservists who hoped that the turning point that will stop the forces will occur not after a couple of days or a week, but the moment before they cross the lines.