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With a crestfallen face as dry as a sack, and the slow speech of someone whose world has collapsed, "Mr. Terror" deigned to blurt out with scornful and bitter sourness that "one action against six terrorists does not change the fact that Olmert is going to give up all the territories to Hamas." In other words, this operation was petty for someone like the Bobby Fisher of the global terrorism chessboard, the liberator of Sheikh Yassin: What's six terrorists compared to the great sea of terrorists waiting to be dried up, one at a time?

Indeed, if there were a comic interlude in this election season, Netanyahu's campaign provides it, especially since the man who not long ago was referring to the healthy Ariel Sharon as a "tyrant," "dictator" and "head of a Mafioso family" now has the gall to wrap himself in the cloak of the ailing and silent prime minister and represent his "authentic policy": the one that has no concession of territory or unilateral withdrawals.

Moreover, in the Likud election broadcasts, the white-haired burly figure reappears in military battledress, popping out of a helicopter or pointing to a map while standing above the ridges known as "Sharon's porch." Only a second look clarifies that the round military figure is not Sharon, but actually Netanyahu. That goes to show us that in every election someone has to be Sharon - the question is, which Sharon and from what period?

Ehud Olmert, for example, tries to present the Sharon of the "Tantra Period," the one who said at the height of the terrorist attacks that "restraint is power." And indeed, a few hours after the Jericho operation, which was described in the media with ecstatic terminology like "the great blow" that guarantees Olmert's election, with comparisons to Entebbe and the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor, Olmert was walking around with the look of the cat who swallowed the cream on his face but had adopted the Sharonesque coolness. But by the evening of the same day he could no longer restrain himself and blurted out the Olmert that had piled up inside him. He spoke of "the people," which had "restored its honor" and avenged the blood of "Gandhi, may the Name avenge his blood."

Even if there is a contradiction between demanding of "the Name" that he avenge the blood, and the operation, which simply reimprisoned the assassins - that's the least of the questions that were shoved aside during that time of euphoria. These include: Did Israel ever show such resolve in capturing wanted men who killed "just ordinary" Israelis? Are there some whose blood is thicker than the hundreds and thousands of the other victims of terror?

True, there is a symbolic importance in the murder of a minister (even though he had resigned, and even though Israel is the one that started assassinating enemy leaders), but isn't there the aftertaste of a vendetta in the familial-governmental-IDF cheering about "closing accounts" when the victim is "one of us" - meaning a senior member of the political-military oligarchy ruling in Israel? And what about the price that might be paid by ordinary citizens as a result? And another, more fundamental question: Whence the axiom that it is possible to buy the Israeli voter's heart only with military operations?

True, there are a variety of ways to flatter the voter, like election economics. During some periods of time, which woefully have passed from the world, even "efforts to achieve peace" were promised. But it is agreed that nothing "delivers" the electoral swish into the basket like a juicy military operation: something with a missile, a jet, a bomb or at least a bulldozer, something that climaxes with Arabs in their underwear, or running away barefoot, or picking their way through the rubble. Less than that is considered the failure of a prime minister in his baptism of fire, just as the promise of peace and prosperity is nearly a guarantee of defeat at the polls.

The special power of Sharon derived from the fact he did not have to prove anything. With the force of his veteran mythological baptism, he could allow himself to speak about restraint and withdrawals without batting an eyelash. The other politicians, from Shimon Peres (Kafr Kana) and Netanyahu (the Hasmonean Tunnel) to Amir Peretz ("fighting terror") and Olmert - still feel the need to "play soldier" to get over the voter's threshold, or at least win their hearts with the shiny glass beads of a big military operation, even if the effectiveness fades fast or turns out to boomerang.

The Jericho operation was not a blank demonstration, and nonetheless it should be hoped that this won't be Olmert's only road to glory. If only we could finally get a prime minister who would stand up and not feel inferior because he is a civilian.