A senior general staff officer involved in the planning of the evacuation of Gaza was surprised to hear from a civilian last week asking what would happen after Tisha B'Av. As every year, the yeshiva students would go on their three-week summer vacation, but unlike every other year, this year they will use the leisure time to hook up with the disengagement opponents. There will be several hundred, maybe a few thousands, from the hesder yeshivot, who are like Nahal soldiers. The army could call them up for active service (or cancel the arrangement with their yeshiva and thus worsen their military service conditions), but it's doubtful they will obey their commander if his orders clash with the rabbis'.

After Tisha B'Av was discovered as a date that could postpone the disengagement, that new bit of information will no doubt be entered as data in the equation to waste all of August. Then, with the agreement of the teachers unions, the school year will begin, and it is inconceivable that the babes of the rabbis should have their holy studies interrupted.

Behind the sudden wrapping in the tallit, like behind the discovery that the demolition of the settlers houses and the evacuation of the rubble would very much extend the evacuation, there lurks a stubborn suspicion that the government of Ariel Sharon, with Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz in the role of Dov Weissglas' arm, is maneuvering to turn the evacuation into a horizon - always there, approached but never quite reached.

The longer the execution of the evacuation is delayed, the intensity of the vow in its name will increase. It won't be canceled, just its timing will go through occasional updating, from time to time, as required by developments on the ground, keeping in mind the rulings of the religious teachers of our era.

When Mofaz found out, from a conversation with rabbis, the meaning of the days between the 17 of Tamuz and the 9 of Av, he recommended to Sharon a postponement of the evacuation. That is the division of labor between them, just as it was in the days when Mofaz was chief of staff. Mofaz knows what he is supposed to recommend, and Sharon, in his generosity, accepts the recommendation.

Soldiers are told that they cannot deviate from the chain of command and obey instructions from another authority, a rabbinical one in this case; but the head of the chain of command accepts with surrender, and perhaps love, such instructions, for extraneous reasons. Sharon cannot cancel the evacuation, lest he ignite George Bush's rage. But nor can he actually go through with it. That's the perfect situation as far as he is concerned: an eternal limbo, an evacuation that neither lives nor dies.

The Labor Party is in the government on condition: as a subcontractor for the dismantling of settlements and with the declared intention to quit at the end of the disengagement and force early elections to the Knesset. The longer the delay in the evacuation - as long as it is not actually shelved - Labor will be imprisoned in the government and will reach the fall of 2006 without being able to offer an alternative to Sharon.

Sharon is at a disadvantage inside the Likud against the disengagement opponents, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. Given the winding ways of politics, that might be a fluid and reversible situation, but if Hamas takes over Gaza and terror is renewed the day after the withdrawal, Sharon will be defeated in any internal competition for the party leadership. He'll be like Peres in the 1996 elections, after handing over the Palestinian towns to the Palestinian Authority, the elections there and the terror attacks of February-March that followed.

It would be best for Sharon if the elections took place before the evacuation and not after. Without batting an eye, Sharon will contradict his previous arguments and explain that he was persuaded that the demand to go to the people to let them make such a fateful decision is just and proper.

Sharon, as he said on Sunday, won't give up the role of being the one to call Pini Gershon after the next championship. On the eve of Independence Day, his Ben-Gurionesque dream finally came true, to be both prime minister and defense minister. The man who has the other title never had an original thought and maybe it's best that way. Mofaz is just a feeble chorus for Sharon, an echo and not the head.