A senior officer who is on daily contact with the settlers said midweek, even before Benjamin Netanyahu soared in the polls, that "Netanyahu's resignation has given the [disengagement] opponents a tailwind." No one knows how the operation to evacuate the settlements of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria will proceed, develop and conclude, the officer said, and above all there is no expert who will dare to guess how the zealots will behave and what sort of chain of provocation and reaction they will generate. The IDF and the police have kept secret even from the evacuation forces the preparations to overcome extremists who endanger the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. Hovering in the background is the failure to prevent the murders at Shfaram by the armed deserter Eden Natan Zada.

On the eve of Netanyahu's resignation as finance minister, Sharon met with an old acquaintance and shared his thoughts with him. In the government, the prime minister said, he cannot rely on the seriousness of more than two or three ministers. And they are not necessarily his supporters - Tzipi Livni, Tzachi Hanegbi and maybe also Yisrael Katz. (He did not mention the two who are considered his loyalists: Ehud Olmert and Shaul Mofaz.) As for Netanyahu, he "despises" him.

Sharon has declared that he will run again in the next elections, whether on behalf of the Likud, as he prefers, or outside it. After the elections he will insist that the Palestinian fulfill their part in the road map and prove, at least in one or two of the cities that have been transferred to them, that they are fighting terrorism fiercely. If they do, he will strive for a permanent agreement in the framework of which the Palestinian state will get the entire West Bank apart from the settlement blocs. Thanks to the peace treaty with Jordan and the eradication of the Iraqi threat, the Jordan Rift Valley is no longer essential and can be ceded.

In place of continuous construction of Ma'aleh Adumim, which will force the Palestinians to find tortuous routes around it between the north and south of the West Bank, Sharon will consider a tunnel road, such as the one between Jerusalem and the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. Concessions can also be expected in the eastern sections of Jerusalem - an allusion to a plan devised by Israel's National Security Council to part with Kafr Aqeb and Shuafat. At the moment there seems little likelihood that this Sharon blueprint will be realized. His calculations have hit a snag and he is facing two difficult fronts - internal, in the form of Netanyahu and the disengagement opponents, and external, in the form of an American-Palestinian alliance. If he manages to extricate himself from the first, he will have a hard time coping with the second.

Beneath the polite smiles, Israel's political-diplomatic and security relations with Washington are at their lowest level in years. Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza is becoming a bilateral fling between Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Condoleezza Rice. In return for the Palestinians' courteous willingness to accept the Gaza Strip, the Americans will heap on them abundant political and economic support. Sharon wants the road map as a substitute for the Oslo process. Abbas wants to go back to Oslo. The Bush administration is leaning toward Abbas - Oslo again, albeit by the back door. Without specific goals for the coming Israeli withdrawals, without a binding timetable and without international guarantees, Abbas will refuse to do battle against terrorism. Bush and Rice will repulse Sharon's efforts to explain that even if the end of the process is pretty well agreed on, it has to be reached along a lengthy road. This, at any rate, will be the picture if there is quiet in Gaza for a time after the evacuation.

Gloomy conclusions

In the face of the Palestinian terrorism during the past five years, effective patterns of cooperation have been worked out between the various security arms. In the face of Jewish terrorism, the deployment is far weaker. Brigadier General (res.) Ika Abarbanel, whom Chief of Staff Dan Halutz appointed to investigate systemic failures in the Eden Natan Zada affair, wanted to attack not only the serious problems in the army's Personnel Directorate, and between it and Army Headquarters, but also those between the IDF and the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police.

Afterward the General Staff became less enthusiastic about the depth of the investigation, and Abarbanel was asked to reduce the scope of his efforts to the personnel aspects. The Shin Bet, which remained outside Abarbanel's investigation, examined itself and set up a special investigating team with the Military Police. Chief Superintendent Gadi Eshed, the deputy commander of the Central Unit of the Tel Aviv District police, who became acquainted with the methods of operation of security services and the police in Europe and America, was invited to send to the chief of staff conclusions of a study he made and published at his initiative.

The conclusions reached by Eshed and by Shin Bet and Mossad espionage agency personnel are gloomy. Israel has a "committee of heads of [intelligence] services" but no joint coordinator of working levels, and an "antiterrorism unit" as an advisory and early-warning body, but only with regard to the Palestinians, Hezbollah and Al-Qaida. There is no "follow-up committee" regarding non-Arabs. Each body - the Shin Bet, the police, the Military Police, the economic research units, security departments in the Defense Ministry and in the IDF - stores its own data on computers which are not interconnected.

The motivation for this is positive: the desire to prevent any one organization from accumulating too much secret material. The result is the opposite of "the watchful eye of Big Brother" and is more of an improvisation in the local custom, "Hey, bro, keep an eye open," mixed with general suspiciousness, personal and organizational ego battles and zealousness to keep sources secret, in theory so they won't be exposed and burned, and in practice also so that they will not be rejected as not reliable.

Eshed's solution is in line with the method adopted by the Americans, the British and the Dutch: a "brewery," an inter-service coordinator of activity. Eshed proposes placing representatives of all the bodies in one hall, each in front of his computer terminal, with general but not full access to information about suspects. Hypersensitive material - involvement in criminal activity or, alternatively, the fact that the suspect is an agent - will be concealed behind an asterisk, which will direct the interested party to the official who is in charge of the file. The sharing of such sensitive material will require special authorization.

The Samaria syndrome

There was disappointment this week in Central Command at the flaccid reaction to the Natan Zada affair. With so much self-satisfaction at the condemnation of the terrorist attack in Shfaram, an opportunity was missed to launch an aggressive operation to scuttle the coming murders. Even if the next Natan Zada will not be drafted, or will quickly be kicked out of the army, or if his rifle will be taken from him, the IDF - with its carelessness, with its breached armories, with its soldiers on leave at home and with the selling of weapons for money or drugs - is still the largest provider of arms to the Palestinians and to criminals.

A shortage of army weapons will not cause a dry season, it will only up the market price of stolen weapons. A week ago the security officer of one of the regional councils in the center of the country urged the kibbutzim and moshavim (cooperative farming communities) to keep a close watch on their personal and collective weapons. "With the move of the police forces to the south," the security officer wrote in a circular, referring to the evacuation operation, "the temptation for thieves has grown. In the past week 22 weapons were stolen in our region."

And there are, of course, the weapons that the kingdom itself supplied, or permitted to be supplied, to those who are out to topple the kingdom. In midweek, when the weapons from the settlements in northern Samaria began to be collected, the request was only for the few rifles of the standby units, about 40 in each settlement. But the dozens or perhaps hundreds of weapons in the possession of settlers who plan to barricade themselves and resist the evacuation were not collected - they include firearms that are held with a permit from the Interior Ministry and others that were allocated for territorial defense in other settlements.

According to an officer who is knowledgeable about the two sectors, the mission in Samaria is more complicated than the one in Gaza. Gush Katif, he notes, "is closed in from three sides, by Egypt, sea and fence. The settlements in Samaria are wide open." So the IDF is concerned that fanatics from Sa-Nur, one of the settlement slated for evacuation, will perpetrate a massacre in an adjacent Palestinian village, such as Jebah, in the hope of a Palestinian response that will cause casualties in Sa-Nur. That scenario, or one in which an armed Israeli positions himself at Tapuah junction and opens fire at a vehicle carrying Palestinians and then immediately turns himself in before he is attacked, was expected more than the one that actually occurred - of someone going all the way to Shfaram and killing Israeli Arabs.

According to the evaluation that was made this week, Natan Zada hoped to survive; he did not set out to perpetrate a "self-sacrifice attack," like Palestinians who attack IDF outposts, knowing that their prospects of remaining alive are nonexistent. Others are liable to commit suicide, like the Buddhist monks who set themselves ablaze in Saigon, or like Jan Palach, who burned himself to death to protest the Soviet invasion of Prague. Another example is the attack that was thwarted at the Foreign Ministry in Tel Aviv in October 1952. The terrorist, who was carrying a bag containing "a time bomb of two kilograms of fragmentation explosives," according to the then chief of the Shin Bet, Isser Harel, confessed. "At first," he stated, "I had in mind to commit suicide with these explosives in the heart of the kirya" - the Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv - to protest the reparations agreement with Germany, but then recanted and decided to make to with blowing up the Foreign Ministry. A few decades later the would-be terrorist, Dov Shilansky, became the Speaker of the Knesset. The zealots of Sa-Nur and Neveh Dekalim will probably forgo a future of that kind.