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I happened to switch on the TV this past week just as three trailers were about to be removed in real time from Givat Assaf, an illegal outpost in the West Bank. It should have been a cinch, considering that no one was even living in them. But the tom-tom drums quickly relayed the message to the settlers, and they began streaming to the site in the hundreds, all fired up and eager to foil the dastardly plot.

It's not clear who decided and where, but no one ever showed up to do the job. The excuse was that a force of 4,000 soldiers would have to be brought in. The State of Israel, which beat seven Arab armies, occupied Sinai twice and has waged a war on terror since the day it was born, caves in to a handful of Jewish extremists. Is such a thing conceivable? You bet it is.

That same day, I happened to see the following headline splashed across the front pages of the newspaper: "Police fear political assassinations during disengagement: Temple Mount attack, hits on ministers and top officials, nationwide unrest." In other words, a few Jewish settlers are planning to use force to keep the government from carrying out its decision. Could such a thing happen? Absolutely.

I happened to watch a Channel 8 documentary that day on the American Civil War. Filmed scenes reenacting the period illustrated the bloody price exacted by a war between the federal government and rebel forces. Could the disengagement plan turn into a civil war or an uprising against the Israeli government? Sure it could.

If the defense forces can't haul away three empty trailers for fear of a show-down with a bunch of hot-headed settlers, how on earth is the government going to carry out the disengagement plan, let alone evacuate 21 settlements? What will the police and the IDF do if 2,000-3,000 settlers converge on Gush Katif and chain themselves to houses, trees and fences? What will they do if settlers lie down on the roads leading to Gaza and clog intersections all over the country? Scrape them off the sidewalk with steam shovels? How do they intend to deal with the provocation and violence predicted by the Shin Bet and the police? Administrative detention?

The problem of dual loyalty doesn't apply only to American Jews. It also applies to the settlers. Some of them are loyal to the state and abide by its laws (even if they receive outrageous perks and keep the army's finest soldiers busy doing one thing - protecting their hides). The Yesha council may be the only organized body in the country that can make or break political leaders, but up to a point it can be negotiated with.

In the other corner, however, are settlers who are loyal only to their messianic vision of a Greater Israel. Piety, nationalism and fanaticism are a fatal cocktail, producing a minority bent on bullying the majority in order to get its way. The authority of the state means nothing to these people. They sneer at it. They have no qualms whatsoever about actively resisting a government that represents the will of the people.

When disengagement rolls around, the IDF may find itself in a war on two fronts: retreating under a hail of bullets as the terrorist organizations try to create the impression that Israel is being kicked out, and clashing with mobs of settlers. The aim of this minority is to stay put in Gaza, not because it is the land of the patriarchs but in order to shoot down any precedent and make it clear that there will be no withdrawal from Judea and Samaria - even at the price of civil war.

The defense forces are preparing for all kinds of scenarios - from evacuating residents in return for compensation, to knocking down houses if need be and closing off the Gaza Strip to block the entry of outside protesters.

What is missing at the moment is a disengagement headquarters overseen by a capable, experienced general that will put together specially trained units for this mission. The duties of this office would be not only supervising evacuation but addressing any provocation meant to drag the IDF into a civil war, even if it leads to bloodshed. Israel cannot allow a minority to dictate to the majority and force it to live forever in the grip of terror. The authority of the state and the good of the people come first.

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