Two brave leaders who tried to bring about peace between us and the Palestinians screwed up big-time: Ariel Sharon, who evacuated Gaza unilaterally, without an agreement, and President George Bush, who pressed the Palestinians to hold democratic elections in order to establish a stable regional order. Both failed to give thought to the truth of the well-known saying: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Sharon sought to wean his countrymen from the dream of Greater Israel, to prove that Israel is capable of evacuating settlements, and that there is a path to a pragmatic agreement on the horizon. The evacuation of Gush Katif was supposed to be a kind of appetizer for the Palestinians, to tempt them to peacefully establish their state alongside Israel. Bush, for his part, saw in his vision of democratic elections a state of Palestine that would arise as another locale free of terror and of the influence of radical Islam.

Both leaders erred, in a big way. Hamas' victory in the elections caused one of the most vicious civil wars in our region, and turned Gaza into a base for terror against Israel. The expectations that the Qassam rocket fire would end, and that Gaza, with its beautiful beaches, would instead become a tourist mecca and a source of income, proved false. Sderot continued to suffer Qassam strikes, and as time passed, rockets were also fired at most of the other communities near Gaza - all of which are in Israeli territory.

Since the first Qassam was fired in 2001, some 5,900 rockets and mortar shells have landed in Israeli territory. During this period, 18 Israelis have been killed and about 600 wounded. Considering that 210 people have been killed in traffic accidents over the last half year - 35 fatalities a month - world opinion views the number of fatalities from Qassam attacks over the last six years as negligible, surely not enough to justify World War III.

But these are not the victims of traffic accidents; they are victims of a kind of fighting that has put a sizable city in Israel into a state of perpetual fear. Residents of the area are right to say that no country in the world would sit with hands folded if one of its cities were being bombed day after day, night after night. What country would accept a situation in which its neighbor not only bombarded it, but also established an offensive army that is openly preparing for terrorist operations more lethal than rocket fire, such as kidnapping, and extending the range of its rockets to additional cities within Israel?

Sharon was surprised when the Qassam fire resumed after the evacuation of Gush Katif. Shortly before he suffered his stroke, he considered the option of aerial bombardment of the areas from which Qassams are launched, but dropped the idea when it was made clear to him that anyone who starts indiscriminate bombing of a civilian population is liable to end up in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Even now, when public demand for sending the army into Gaza is growing, this option is not as simple as it seems. It is impossible to launch a war in a densely populated area, with narrow alleys housing thousands of women and children, without the support of international public opinion. And we cannot muster such support when we have suffered a single kidnapped soldier and 18 fatalities in six years.

Yet the more time passes with thousands of people living unprotected and in constant fear in Sderot, the greater the demand becomes for a massive military incursion into Gaza. And having learned the lesson of the Second Lebanon War - that in order to eradicate terror, you need an M-16, not an F-16 - sending a massive ground force into Gaza for a kind of expanded Operation Defensive Shield is liable to pin us down for months or even years in a bloody war.

With every passing day, every additional rocket that lands in our terrority increases the demand to "give it to them." Public Security Minister Avi Dichter warns that Israel is embroiled in a war of attrition. And a study by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center predicts that sooner or later, the terrorist organizations will try to transfer the Qassam method to the West Bank.

For now, both Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi are putting their feet on the brakes of the "the big invasion" option. Instead, they are making do with pinpoint operations inside Gaza on a nightly basis, and sanctions that restrict the supply of food, electricity and other goods. They are thereby sticking their fingers in the hole in the dike. In the story, at least, the little boy thus prevented a disaster.

In any major operation, you know how you will enter, but not how or when you will leave, and how much blood will be shed. We already had one Vietnam, in the First Lebanon War. We do not need a second Vietnam in Gaza.