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If you can't take the heat, as they say, stay out the kitchen. Dr. Rantisi, who already felt the heat of an Israeli missile twice and miraculously survived, should have known, when he replaced Ahmed Yassin as head honcho of Hamas, that he was living on borrowed time. As someone who promised bloody revenge, and asked Hezbollah and Iranian experts for help in staging a mega-attack in Israel, he was a ticking bomb par excellence.

Bumping off Rantisi was justified. I doubt that even the heads of the Palestinian Authority, including Dahlan, shed a tear over his death. They are not at all tickled pink by the idea of Hamas' calling the shots when Israel leaves the Gaza Strip. And don't be overly impressed by the cries for revenge by the thousands who turned out for Rantisi's funeral. Hamas doesn't need excuses for killing us. Whether its chiefs are alive or on their way to heaven where the virgins are waiting, the collective brain of Hamas is obsessed with one thing: murdering as many Jews as possible - women, children, old people, in their beds, in their homes, on buses, in restaurants. In short, wherever it spots a security lapse or the Shin Bet and police fall down on the job.

The precautions being taken by the security services, in force from Pesach until after Independence Day, are not for nothing. There are warnings, and perhaps concrete information, about a possible mega-attack or series of attacks against Israel and Jewish targets around the world.

Hamas wants to reap the fruit of Israel's unilateral withdrawal and evacuation of settlement in Gaza, presenting it as a victory for the group. Israel must be on its guard not to get sucked into this game. It can't afford to be dragged into "rolling" operations like Defensive Shield, which harm the Palestinian population, or into wholesale assassinations of Palestinian leaders.

Sharon has launched a dramatic initiative to withdraw Israeli forces and clear out 20 settlements in the Gaza Strip - a move that President Bush has described as an historic about-face and the first stage in implementing the road map on the way to establishing a Palestinian state. We must take care that terror - of which there will be more - and our disproportionate responses to it, do not endanger the disengagement plan or cause the Sharon administration, which is not bowled over by the plan in any case, to turn against it.

Unlike Lebanon, where the Israeli army departed in one night and Hezbollah took credit for driving the Israelis out, evacuating Gaza is a process that could take at least a year. After a Likud referendum, followed by the endorsement of the government and the Knesset, legislation will be needed to move the settlers out. Finding alternative housing and jobs for 8,000 settlers is no simple matter. During this interval, terror is bound to continue, but the departure in stages will stifle any attempt by Hamas to chalk it up as a victory for itself.

The war on terror will go on, but it is important to wage it with appropriate restraint. True, Bush is backing Israel in this war, and has even given the IDF a free hand to engage in hot pursuit if terror continues after the pullout. But this support comes with an American mantra attached: Israel must weight the consequences of its actions.

Bush's head is in Iraq at the moment, and just because he permits himself to do something over there doesn't mean we're allowed to do it here. It's nice that the Americans are sympathetic, but the "rest of the world" is important to us too. The fact that we are being denounced by Europe, and basically the whole world, for assassinating Rantisi, drives home the need for proportion. Israel needs the rest of the world and the UN if the unilateral separation plan is to be accompanied by political and financial assistance that will enable the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and the orderly transfer of evacuated settlements.

The cycle of terror-retaliation-terror cannot be allowed to sabotage the Sharon initiative or culminate in elections that put the ultra-right in power, the way the terrorist attacks in Spain ushered in a change of government and the bus bombings in this country led to Shimon Peres' defeat in 1996 and the rise of the Likud.

Now is the time for Sharon the statesman to eclipse Sharon the general, and the forum of five to act like a political cabinet rather than a subsidiary of the General Staff. Terror must not be allowed to torpedo the first political initiative in years to offer a small glimmer of hope for a better future.