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IDF Debating if U.S. Conquest Is Also an Israeli Victory

The army's top brass, from colonel up, is to meet Sunday for a presentation by on the Israel Defense Forces' financial condition, the defense budget and the multi-year development budget.

The army's top brass, from colonel up, is to meet Sunday for a presentation by on the Israel Defense Forces' financial condition, the defense budget and the multi-year development budget.

The immediate ramification of the budgetary issues is that many officers and NCOs will be fired, mostly from the middle ranks. But behind these concerns are deeper, political issues with regard to the significance of the American success in Iraq.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon will sum up the presentations at the meeting, slated to be held at an air force base. In recent days there has been a lively debate underway in the defense establishment in an effort to convince those two - and through them Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the political echelon and the entire public - that there's no reason for the gloom that has begun spreading as it becomes clear the Americans have indeed succeeded in Iraq.

The gloominess does not reflect the professional echelon's opinion. IDF generals have expressed admiration for the performances of their U.S. and British colleagues, but there appears to be a conditioned reflex that as the Americans finish their mission in Iraq, they will turn to Israel and plant the "road map" on the Palestinians and us.

True, say the moderates in the IDF, the road map is close to its official launch, but it should not be seen as a defeat, rather a great success. This is exactly what the IDF was fighting for - a renewal of the political process with a new Palestinian leadership that has shaken off terror and will fight against it.

Israel wanted Abu Mazen appointed prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, and got him. It waited for the American campaign in Iraq, and has the right to be satisfied with the American moves and their results.

This is the genesis of a new regional order. Under these circumstances, the renewed political process is precisely the necessary achievement, part of the change, and not a remnant of the destroyed world of Saddam and Yasser Arafat. Therefore, this is an important victory for Israel.

Since the framework will affect the content, there are those in the defense establishment who are recommending that the Americans be convinced to put the road map's steering committee to the Iraq test: Those who opposed the war there should not be allowed to gather the political fruits here.

The Quartet failed on that account: At least three-quarters of it - the UN, EU and Russia (if the fourth, Colin Powell, is ignored) - should now be ruled out of any involvement in Middle East affairs. The international envelope is still vital for the process, but with a different composition, including those who dared and won in Iraq. Alongside the Americans, this includes Australia, Spain, Italy, Poland and Holland.

The underlying assumption of those who take this view is that Sharon is interested in political progress and will go a long way with George Bush - all the way to the establishment of the "provisional state" based on the conditions of a limited Palestine between the Jordan Valley and the separation fence, without permanent borders, and solutions to the question of Jerusalem and the refugees, but with transportation contiguity and a sampling of settlement evacuation (all of those in Gaza and a half dozen more in the West Bank).

The Americans want that as a two-year interim period, while Sharon wants it for 20 years. That kind of framework would drive Avigdor Lieberman and possibly Effi Eitam out of the government and bring in Amram Mitzna, Avraham Shochat and their colleagues in Labor.