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During the same week when IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz acknowledged to members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Operation Defensive Shield failed, Israel Defense Forces troops moved into West Bank cities, undertaking Operation Determined Path. The circumstances and atmosphere were similar: After a wave of cruel Palestinian terror attacks, there was general agreement that Israel had no choice but to deploy unusual means of force to quell terror. The IDF submitted an operational plan, and the political leadership authorized it, virtually unanimously. Soldiers, including reservists conscripted under emergency orders, fully identified with their assignments.

And thus for the second time in three months, the State of Israel found itself with its army in control of Area A (designated in the Oslo Accords as being under full Palestinian control) lands, and undertaking a dangerous, taxing effort to locate and destroy Palestinian terror sites. But unlike the case of Defensive Shield, the current extreme move is being carried out in the absence of public debate about its meaning. The IDF is reoccupying the West Bank, with the apparent intention of remaining in these lands for a long, indefinite period - and the public views the situation apathetically.

Extrapolating from the precedent of Defensive Shield, the following events are liable to occur in coming days: More Palestinian civilians will die as a result of mistakes; international pressure will pick up steam, calling for an end to the siege on the Palestinian population; the government will, to some extent, be influenced by this pressure, and as a result the IDF will claim that it isn't being allowed to finish the job; developments within the Palestinian Authority, or in the international arena, will cause Israel to relinquish some of the objectives it set at the beginning of the operation; the terror attacks will resume, and sometime later Chief of Staff Mofaz (or his successor) will concede that the operation didn't meet expectations.

There is, of course, another possibility. Israel will not face genuine pressure calling on it to abort the operation; the lessons of Defensive Shield having been learned well, the IDF will not make any significant mistakes that disrupt the original plans and intentions of Determined Path; new international circumstances (such as the U.S. position regarding Yasser Arafat) will enable the Sharon government to carry out its plans fully; Palestinian suicide attacks will not resume, owing to the IDF's imposing presence in West Bank cities and the refugee camps around them.

Careful thought about its meaning and implications must be given to this optimistic scenario. One possibility is that it will become clear that the IDF doesn't have the wherewithal to eradicate the threat of lethal Palestinian terror. A second possibility is that it will become clear that a powerful show of military force (the regular army plus a limited call-up of reservists) can restore quiet to Israel - but the only way to maintain such quiet is to deploy troops massively on the West Bank for an unlimited length of time. In other words, it might be that only a reoccupation of Palestinian Authority lands, and the imposition of tough military rule (curfews and closures, violent, unending searches) can guarantee the welfare of citizens of Israel.

After one week of the current operation, it has been reported that more than 2,000 people have been detained and await questioning, and that the Shin Bet security service has stretched itself to the limit, trying to extract crucial information from these detainees. This is just the tip of the iceberg: The number of Palestinians who have been involved in violent activity against Israel, or who have pertinent information, is very, very large. Palestinian terrorists do not set out on strikes without widespread, popular support, from which they obtain shelter and logistical help.

Israel is caught in a trap, and military operations cannot free it from this bind. The choice being offered by its current government is reconciliation with abominable terror, or a corrupting conquest. Nobody in the political leadership is offering a different route - separating from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.