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"Gaza paradox: Israeli army moves in so it can pull out" is the headline of the report of James Bennet, the New York Times correspondent in Israel, that appeared in the Times on May 22, 2004. Has this foreign correspondent already caught on to the Israeli way of doing things?

Throughout the years of Palestinian terror against Israel, the IDF has not engaged in major military operations in the Gaza area similar to the ones being implemented in Judea and Samaria since the Park Hotel massacre in Netanya in March 2002. And for good reason. A military operation in an area as densely populated as the Gaza Strip is likely to lead to extensive civilian casualties, including women and children. It involves, in addition, considerable danger to the IDF soldiers, especially when care is taken to avoid casualties among the civilian population.

Combating terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip until now has been restricted to patroling the security fence surrounding the Strip, occasional forays into the Gaza Strip, patroling the Philadelphi route, and surgical strikes from the air. What has changed to bring about the recent major operations by IDF ground forces in the Gaza Strip? Why was caution thrown to the wind? Is it really moving in so you can pull out? Is this the prelude for the unilateral withdrawal that the prime minister is espousing? If so, it was the beginning of an unfortunate and tragic chain of events.

Barak's hasty unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon that left everybody with such a bad taste in their mouths must certainly be on the prime minister's mind. This time the unilateral withdrawal is going to be far more difficult, since it is supposed to involve the uprooting of Israeli settlements. So maybe the disastrous image of retreat under fire can be erased by staging a major military operation on the ground before the retreat in an attempt to impress the Gaza terrorists with the power of the IDF. Maybe this will disabuse them of any illusions that it is their campaign of terror that has brought about the impending Israeli withdrawal. Is this the background to the IDF's recent operation in the Gaza area? Did the New York Times correspondent get it right?

But it is most unlikely that the IDF's Gaza operation will change the terrorists' view of what is behind the prime minister's plan for unilateral withdrawal. For them the plans for withdrawal are seen as a victory for their campaign of terror, a justification for their strategy, an indication of things to come, with Israel being rolled back again and again under the pressure of blows inflicted on Israel. If anything, the IDF's Gaza operation, seemingly cut short because of international pressure, will only confirm them in their view of things.

The objectives of the operation - the workshops producing Qassam rockets, and the tunnels to Egypt through which weapons are being imported into the Gaza Strip - are going to remain a problem for Israel's security after the operation is over. If anything, the removal of the Israeli settlements in Gush Katif that block a segment of the Egyptian border, will only exacerbate the problem. The idea of amending the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty to permit the stationing of Egyptian armed forces along the international border is preposterous; it will only add another concern to Israel's defense establishment. What Egyptian border guards are unable or unwilling to do will not be done by soldiers of the Egyptian army.

The advocates of the establishment of a Palestinian state have had a modest preview of the problems Israel will face after such a state is established on Israel's borders. The manufacture of rockets to be launched against Israel, the import - clandestine, or open - of more powerful weapons to be used against targets in Israel, that scenario is not a figment of the wild imagination of the "extreme right" in Israel, but rather a pretty realistic view of what the future holds once the Palestinian state is established. After all, in Gaza there already exists a Palestinian state to all intents and purposes. If the unilateral withdrawal takes place, additional territory will come under the rule of those who now control the goings on there. A replication of these problems to areas in Judea and Samaria bodes no good for Israel.