At the end of last week, the Israel Airports Authority took the trouble to send a letter of apology to Lutfi Mashour, the editor of the Arabic-language weekly, Al Sinara, for the humiliation caused to him about a month ago when he was singled out and forced to undergo a special security check at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Mashour had been part of a press delegation accompanying President Moshe Katsav on an official visit to France.

The letter of regret was eked out of the government establishment with much difficulty: As a last resort - only following the intervention of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, and only after the Shin Bet security service refused to send it from its offices - the task was imposed on the management of the Israel Airports Authority.

Israel's security authorities have a hard time admitting their mistakes or failures. When the Israel Defense Forces moves into the Gaza Strip, kills 15 Palestinians - nine armed men and the remainder civilians, including children - it does not express regret for the harm done to innocent individuals; it explains that the victims are to blame for their deaths because they choose to serve as human shields for the Palestinian terrorists.

Such is the case, too, when assassination operations carried out using helicopters harm innocent bystanders; and such was the case when an IDF bulldozer ran down and killed Rachel Corrie, a foreign peace activist. And let's not forget the killing of Mohammed a-Dura at the start of the intifada in September 2000. At the time, there were senior IDF officers who insisted on claiming that the boy, who became a symbol of the uprising, was killed by Palestinian rather than Israel gunfire.

And has anyone heard Military Intelligence admit the error of its assessments regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Arrogance, not to mention machismo, also clearly characterizes the defense establishment's - the IDF, the Shin Bet and the defense minister's advisers - opposition to the prime minister's disengagement plan. This highly influential lobby reasons its position with ear-pleasing arguments: It is certainly correct in protesting the decision-making process regarding the matter; but it is hard to be convinced that it is not swayed by considerations of prestige and ego.

Statements the likes of "We are winning every day" (the commander of the IDF forces in Gaza) or "A unilateral withdrawal will be a tail wind in the sails of the terror" (the chief of staff) are not necessarily precise assessments of the situation, devoid of extraneous considerations; they are imbued also with subjective disappointments and expectations.

Presumably, Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon and Avi Dichter have impressive evidence on which to base their assessment that the evacuation of the Strip, without an agreement, will be perceived by the terror organizations as an Israeli defeat and will encourage them to intensify their attacks; but this intelligence is tainted with a perversion, albeit a subconscious one: The two would like to reach the stage of discussing an evacuation of Gaza, if at all, from a position of an unequivocal military victory. Their current assessment of the situation is influenced, inadvertently, by their frustration with the fact that this outright victory has not been achieved.

As chief of staff, and in a problematic context, Moshe Dayan once coined the phrase, "I prefer chivalrous horses to horses that need to be spurred on." There is something built in the aggressive spirit that drives the IDF, as is the case in any army worthy of its name - it is designated to win. To this end, the commanders educate the soldiers; and to this end, the state places enormous resources at its disposal.

As a result, it is difficult for the supreme command, as it is for the other security branches that are involved in combating terror, to accept a political decision stemming from a recognition that this conflict is not ending with clear-cut victory. The pessimistic forecasts regarding the ramifications of a withdrawal from Gaza derive from the concept hat has guided the defense establishment since the outbreak of the intifada - that the conflict is destined to continue for generations, and that at its roots lies an eternal, deep and almost religious refusal on the part of the Palestinians to come to terms with the existence of the State of Israel.

This concept should be challenged. The Palestinians are not Al-Qaida, and their rebellion is not a blind, fanatic attack on the Western way of the world. The Palestinian uprising revolves around a national, statehood-oriented conflict that can be dealt with using intellectual tools, one of the most important of which is a mutual willingness for reconciliation and admitting mistakes.