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The defense minister's limited vocabulary, which relies on phrases such as the "terror infrastructure," "a tough war," "an operation conducted according to the rules," and "armed men," well suits the sort of fighting in which the IDF has become mired in Rafah: a war fought in the alleyways against violent gangs.

Anyone who has a hard time translating the significance of the photos coming out of Rafah, and who needs a prototype of this sort of fighting, will not find it in Lebanon. Instead, it is the sort of battle which is being waged by the United States in Iraq. There, as well, the American army is searching for a coherent target - Saddam loyalists, Ba'ath party members or even Al Qaeda - that can be designated as the objective of the war effort. There, as well, the fighting features a muddle of armed gangs comprised of militants who belong to organizations, or who are simply subversives.

No single leadership unites these gangs. In Rafah, the fighting is against families, and there are those who are able to cite their names - like the Abu Samhadana family. In Rafah, the violent resistance is attributed to Islamic Jihad and Hamas, or to remnants of armed cells which often gain control of an alleyway, or a block of buildings. Under such circumstances of fighting, the use of the concept "terror infrastructure" is misleading and is designed to legitimize an army operation, or to create a sense of mission.

The analogy between Rafah and Iraq has its limits. The U.S. has two advantages in Iraq: local leadership and a political objective. The U.S. grasped that it cannot disqualify any leader in the Iraqi gallery of pretenders to the throne. Anyone who is prepared to lead the country is, in America's eyes, eligible, even if the aspirant supported Saddam in the past, or is a terrorist or plain thief.

This rule of blanket eligibility is so expansive that even an organization such as Aldawa, whose representative, the interim president of the country's provisional ruling council, who was murdered last week, has won recognition. Up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Aldawa was considered a terror organization, and its members were apparently involved in the attack on the marines base in Lebanon in 1983, and later in attacks in Kuwait. Ahmad Chalabi, who is suspected of pilfering millions from a bank in Jordan, was regarded as an omnipotent leader of the opposition. The U.S. appointed a former head of Saddam's Republican Guard headquarters to command Iraqi forces in Faluja.

The U.S. is acting on the basis of a clear timetable: however it is staffed, a new interim Iraqi government is to take over the reins of civilian power on June 30; general elections are to be held in 2005, and then a regular government is to take power.

Israel, by contrast, has blurred the identity of the Palestinian leadership, and evaded commitment to a timetable or to a political plan. Hamas' leadership has, for the most part, been liquidated; Fatah's leadership is either isolated in the Muqata compound, or in prison. There is no single Palestinian leader today who is acceptable to Israel. Any potentially viable contender for the leadership role is considered an Arafat protege. And, of course, Israel is not prepared to conduct talks with Arafat, despite the fact that he is the sole Palestinian leader empowered to impose any sort of control in the territories.

In the past, Israel ruled out any possibility of arranging a hudna [cease-fire]. Today, it is highly unlikely that someone from the various organizations would agree to such a proposal. The road map peace plan has been tucked away in the glove compartment, and the disengagement initiative is not, in its essence, a diplomatic plan. At most, if and when the disengagement proposal is carried out, it will allow the IDF to redeploy its troops on the outskirts of the Gaza Stip, but will not eliminate the need to fight. The arms-smuggling tunnel "contractors," as the defense minister calls them, will continue with their activities after the IDF's "Operation Rainbow" comes to a close, and Palestinian militants will have the same motivation to fire Qassam missiles.

Israel is in urgent need of a road map along the lines of the Iraqi model - a plan that will transfer power in Gaza and other parts of the territories to the Palestinians. It can no longer peer into a microscope in order to observe the Palestinian leadership. Such luxuries were buried when the Oslo agreements collapsed, and the intifada erupted. This is an intifada in which anyone who imagines himself to be a viable Palestinian leader was committed, in planning and in spirit, to the fight. But his is exactly the leadership that could enjoy legitimacy were it to decide to take responsibility from Israel. In the absence of such a leadership, Israel will have to continue conducting matters opposite the Samhadana family and other such families in Gaza and the West Bank.