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The Gaza front exacted a heavy toll in blood yesterday: Six soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb exploded under their armored personnel carrier, during an operation whose goal was to blow up manufactories for improvised mortars. The outcome of this distressing incident is particularly complex because it was feared that some of the soldiers' body parts remained in Palestinian hands and were transferred to terrorist organizations. The extent of the disaster obliges us to once again, and forcefully, raise the question of the Israel Defense Forces' presence in Gaza and its modus operandi there.

The attack was an inseparable part of the war being waged between the IDF and the terrorist organizations in Gaza. This is a war in which terrorists shoot at the houses of settlers in the Gaza Strip and launch rockets from the Strip into Israel. It therefore necessitates intensive military activity within the Strip in order to defend Israeli citizens, which is the state's obligation.

Yet this serious attack, occurring a few days after the one in which the Hatuel family was killed, obliges us once again to question this cruel routine. The right to raise this question, as is known, was recently granted to Likud members, and they voted for the IDF - and the settlers, as well - to continue wallowing in this bloody midden with no apparent exit.

Yesterday's events show how wrong that decision was. Indeed, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz declared this week that Gaza "is not the land of our fathers" and is certainly not a holy site. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in presenting his disengagement plan, also tacitly acknowledged the reality in the Strip and the degree to which the settlements there contribute to security. He described the plan as a measure aimed at improving Israel's security and the IDF's ability to defend its citizens. Thus, in effect, Sharon admitted that Gaza is a security burden that has only been made heavier by the Jewish settlements established there.

It is possible to argue that the IDF's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza will not completely end Palestinian terror. After all, even the security fence that surrounds it cannot prevent the firing of Qassam rockets or reduce the terrorist organizations' motivation to attack Israel, especially since the disengagement plan does not offer a diplomatic solution to the conflict. As a result, it is possible to predict that the unilateral withdrawal will not eliminate the need for operations within the Gaza Strip.

Nevertheless, there is an enormous gap between the need to carry out occasional military operations in order to foil or respond to an attack, and the maintenance of a defensive line hundreds of kilometers long in order to protect settlements that are not, and as Sharon stated, will not be, part of the territory of the State of Israel.

For its difficult war on terror, the IDF needs a shortened border that will become the front line, not a longer one.

Those who opposed the disengagement plan and viewed it as an ideological blow ought to reconsider the amount of damage the IDF's continued presence in Gaza is inflicting on national security.