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In a few more days, something will apparently happen that almost no one wants, but no one has enough courage to prevent. Even if anyone would bother to look at the history books, which are full of examples of collective folly, it is probably too late. The horses have already left the barn. The pledges have been made; the slogans shouted.

And the temptation: Such certain knowledge that you can decide tomorrow's headlines and public discourse, to demand that everyone show a solid front in the face of the enemy. This is not about envelopes and testimony, moving up the elections or lame ducks. Serious men are pouring over military maps and leading, after a two-year break, "a war of no choice" that they did not want, that did not need to happen, that they worked to avoid. But now there is no choice and we must stand behind our soldiers. This is not the time for political disagreements.

And the funerals, the promises that no sacrifice was in vain, that this is a matter of protecting the homeland, and those who sacrificed their lives saved many others. The gun salutes and the parents at the open grave, the interviews with teachers and friends. This is not the right time for politics or investigations, nor for intrusive burrowing into envelopes or into someone's upgrade on some flight or another.

And the "non-combatants" who will be killed on the other side. There is no choice, we will soon explain. The combatants are using them and taking advantage of them; would that we could separate and hit only the combatants. After all, the terrorists kill innocent people on purpose while we kill them by accident.

The head of the opposition will prove once again his willingness to stand up for all of us and place his marvelous rhetorical skills at our disposal. As usual, he will rise above any political discord and explain how justified this war is. He will manage to persuade Jewish activists in the United States and the various neo-cons. And everyone will concede, even his sworn adversaries, that nobody else can explain this war in such fine English as he can.

During the war he will not vote no-confidence, and will support the prime minister and the government without petty calculations or demands. Only after the war will he explain that finally the depth of his theory has been understood - that nothing moves here except by force, that the whole problem is that we ended the war too early, and if it had only gone on another week or month the head of the snake could have been smashed.

The Palestinian Authority will announce that Israel is commiting war crimes in striking at the leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad on purpose, and at women and children by accident, and behind closed doors certain Fatah members will say to certain politicians and journalists that the operation in Gaza came at the right time. They will later appear on Al-Jazeera to denounce Israel in the harshest terms for hurting their brothers in Gaza, and the PLO will declare a hiatus in the final-status talks and the end of the Annapolis process.

The Arab world will join in the harsh criticism, will approach the United Nations and run into a solid wall put up by President Bush, which will continue to protect us against the wrath of the world until his last day in office. Only then will the Arab League call an urgent meeting and decide to suspend the Arab peace initiative.

And then, obviously, the decision-makers will remember that they had completely forgotten to prepare an exit plan from the Gaza Strip. Leaving cannot happen just like that, after all the blood that has been spilled and the economic cost, and the storm of world public opinion. Then they will stay much longer than they had planned, trying to grasp at any international straw to reach a cease-fire at any cost, with the goal of justifying the departure and ensuring that a moment thereafter a volley of Qassams and mortars will not be let loose at the western Negev.

We can still prevent clearly selfish considerations, crude partisan reasoning and other political motives from sweeping the country into an unnecessary war after a break of less than two years. It is still possible to try to reach a cease-fire instead of the war, and to overcome the primitive thought that the cease-fire must be preceded by a major strike so as to rehabilitate "deterrance."

The biggest idiot in Islamic Jihad understands that Israel can wipe Gaza off the face of the earth. This realization does not require a military operation in which victory over the militias will be, at best, imperfect.

The writer is a Meretz MK.