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The most amazing aspect of the operation planned for tomorrow to evacuate two Jewish families that forced their way into the Hebron wholesalers' market is the enormous number of forces allocated for it: about 700 police officers, 10 companies of Border Police officers and no less than four Israel Defense Forces battalions. Roughly 3,000 security forces will be mustered under the command of the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division.

At first glance, this will be the largest confrontation between settlers and the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert since the demolition of the nine houses of the Amona outpost about 18 months ago. In reality, however, it is doubtful that any evacuation will take place tomorrow, and it is not at all clear that an evacuation will involve a violent confrontation.

Although the IDF set August 7 as the evacuation date, as usual in such cases, there will be last-minute talks aimed at preventing the use of force. Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Noam Tivon was Hebron Brigade commander during the first two years - the toughest ones - of the second intifada and he has maintained decent relations with the city's Jewish settlers. He will try to use these ties to reach a compromise and to avoid a confrontation. Last night the main obstacle to this goal was the settlers' refusal to negotiate with him directly as long as the evacuation order was in effect. They are demanding a stay of execution as a condition for returning to the table.

Violent confrontation

The state actually has an interest in a violent confrontation, which would show the U.S. administration that the Olmert-Barak government, in contrast to that of Olmert-Peretz, is not afraid of the settlers and is taking steps to enforce the law in the territories.

This will be Defense Minister Ehud Barak's first test in his current post vis-a-vis the settlers, with the exception of the IDF's resounding failure at Homesh, where for weeks settler youth have continued to visit the remains of the outpost at their will.

The lack of media coverage at Homesh, however, has made the settlers' victory there nearly inconsequential.

The settlers, for their part, also have reasons to favor a confrontation. In their view, the state deceived them by failing to honor a promise to let them return to the Hebron market stores they left a year and a half ago. The two-year anniversary of the Gush Katif "deportation" is nigh, and the summer vacation means that hundreds of schoolchildren are ready and willing to reenact their struggle.

The only party who has nothing to gain from a violent confrontation is the IDF, which for years has preferred to reach a compromise with the settlers whenever possible.

Nevertheless, the IDF has made it clear to the settlers that any violence could cost them dearly: The army has thus far not shown much interest in evacuating Hebron's "brown house," which settlers occupied about six months ago and which former defense minister Amir Peretz promised to evacuate, but harsh resistance in the wholesale market could change that.

No one can predict how tomorrow will play out, but in the long run, the settlers' "two steps forward, one step back" method is keeping them ahead of the game.