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Members of the Israel Defense Forces' General Staff will soon take part in a war game based on the assumption that the Palestinian front is likely to heat up in the coming months.

The exercise will be strictly a thought experiment, involving no movement of troops on the ground. The goal is to consider diplomatic, political and public relations responses to a Palestinian escalation, should one occur after January 20, the eighth anniversary of Yasser Arafat's election as chairman of the Palestinian Authority.

The IDF's assumption is that such an escalation would involve a series of attacks in which many Israelis would be killed and wounded. These attacks could include firing Kassem rockets at Ashkelon or detonating a car bomb near a school. Israel would then have to decide whether to respond with a major military offensive such as Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.

A key question to be examined during the war game is whether Israel wants to risk allowing the PA to collapse, and whether a major military offensive that produces that result would be worth the price.

Officers who have been following events in the territories warned this week that the PA and its security forces are gradually losing control, leading to increasingly frequent clashes between armed factions. This, in turn, could lead to a massacre that Israel would be blamed for not preventing, they warned, and the resulting international outrage would almost certainly result in realization of a long-standing Palestinian goal: the dispatch of international investigators or observers to the territories.

The growing anarchy also prompted initiatives for renewed cooperation between Israel Police and the PA security services, and the police are now considering a request from Palestinian forces in Bethlehem for law enforcement equipment such as handcuffs.

One scenario in the war game involves Arafat's death, but the exercise's authors believe the most likely result of an escalation in the territories would be to strengthen Arafat, while prompting the resignation of his prime minister, Ahmed Qureia.

The IDF also assumes that the United States would be understanding of a harsh Israeli response to a series of deadly attacks. Along with preparing for escalation in the territories, the IDF also is currently preparing for the evacuation of illegal settlement outposts and additional demonstrations against the separation fence.