Senior Israel Defense Forces officers from the Central Command have been recommending the preventive arrest of dozens of extremists from the right - high-profile activists who have been campaigning against the disengagement and organizing protests designed to obstruct the army's moves.

The targeted rightists are mostly residents of settlements in Samaria in the West Bank.

The first administrative detention order against a right-wing activist was issued Sunday. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz signed the order to detain Neria Ofen, a resident of Yitzhar, south of Nablus, and a well-known activist promoting Jewish control of the Temple Mount.

Ofen, 34, the father of four, was arrested by police at the Hizme checkpoint north of Jerusalem Sunday afternoon, on suspicion of involvement in planning attacks against Palestinians.

He was taken to the Shin Bet security services' wing at Shikma Prison in Ashkelon where three men are already under arrest for allegedly attempting to block highways as part of the anti-disengagement protests.

The detention order was signed by Mofaz and approved by State Prosecutor Eran Shendar, but still requires approval by the president of one of the district courts. If approved, Ofen will be kept in custody until September 30, after the disengagement is scheduled to be completed.

Aside from his Temple Mount activism, Ofen has also long been suspected of involvement in attacks on Palestinians. His name came up, indirectly, during the investigation of Jewish terror cells suspected of involvement in the killings of eight Palestinians in 2001-2002. He was never arrested or even formally questioned in those affairs.

The Shin Bet and State Prosecution were only partially successful in bringing those involved in the shootings and bombings to justice. The Shin Bet believes it has had some of the conspirators in custody, but they did not confess and neither the secret service nor police have been able to come up with sufficient evidence to prosecute.

Military sources said Sunday there was a consensus among the Shin Bet, the IDF Central Command, the State Prosecutor's Office and the Military Advocate General's Office that Ofen should be detained. "There was unequivocal information about his plans to harm Arabs in the near future," the sources said. "That's why such an unusual step was needed."

A spokesman for Yitzhar, considered one of the most hard-line settlement communities in the territories, said that the arrest was "an act of cowardice. The defense minister apparently decided they could never find evidence against Ofen."

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union), who has called for civil disobedience to stop the disengagement, said, "I want to congratulate the first administrative detainee under the Sharon dictatorship and to tell him: If you've been arrested, you've won."

The Women in Green (Women for Israel's Tomorrow) activist organization condemned the arrest and demanded Ofen's immediate release. "We are against administrative detention, but if Jews who pose a danger are going to be arrested, then Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres should be arrested for threatening the very existence of the State of Israel," they said.

The Yesha Council of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip warned against "slipping down the slope of administrative detentions, an instrument of totalitarian regimes."

A spokesman for the outlawed Kach movement said, "The witch-hunt has begun."

Major General Yair Naveh, the head of the Central Command, told Maariv last week that administrative detentions should begin in June. Central Command officers are convinced that only by removing all the leading activists will it be possible to control the turmoil in the settlements and illegal outposts, and minimize the chances of violence as the disengagement takes place.

The Shin Bet has so far refrained from employing administrative detention against anti-pullout activists, saying that there was not enough evidence to support such moves in a court of law. Recently, Kach's Noam Federman was confined to house arrest on orders from Naveh. And Avri Ran, who lives in an outpost near Itamar, southeast of Nablus, and is considered a particularly influential leader for the hilltop youth, was sent to house arrest after being accused of beating up a Palestinian. Ran, however, escaped and is believed to be in hiding in the territories.