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"The Target Bank" - that's what they affectionately call that IDF-defense establishment think tank with such brilliant ideas that, in less than a year, have brought us to the fulfillment of Groucho Marx's dictum: "I started with nothing and after years of hard work, I've gotten nowhere."

If it took less than a year to turn scuffles at the Ayosh junction into an ever-escalating maelstrom of blood with neither direction nor purpose - but with unprecedented loss of both personal and general security on both sides of the Green Line. The achievement may be attributed to the phenomenal talent for destruction on the part of Arafat and the Palestinians.

But the quality of options put forward by The Target Bank can also be questioned. Indeed, these options could be defined as a mixture of clumsy "restraint" (one-ton bombs dropped on empty buildings, tank shells fired at empty checkpoints) with effusiveness, excessive noise and excessive force (tank assaults, the longest arm of the air force used for the shortest ranges possible, and the tiniest targets conceivable) - in short, all the ingenious ideas proposed by the Israel Escalation Forces that have brought us to a lose-lose situation: Deterrence has been eroded, defense has turned both inefficient and ineffective, general escalation is apparent on all fronts, and we've been turned into a monster state in the eyes of the world.

Put it this way: If The Target Bank was a financial institution, the government's use of it today could be compared to the period when the major banks pumped up the value of their stocks. In both cases, the future is mortgaged for the sake of immediate thrills and rewards. In both cases, a casino atmosphere is being nurtured to "make a killing" ("Let the IDF win," they say nowadays, "It's not just a bank, it's a friend," they said back then). Then and now a bubble is being inflated, and the government, carried away by escalation, sometimes tends to forget about long term objectives.

The Target Bank shouldn't be blamed for being the only repository of ideas left around. The government is responsible for that. More precisely, the "kitchenette." And even more precisely, Sharon and Fuad, his apprentice.

They maneuver between "reactions" and revenge attacks, and the spectacular "action" - usually hollow and boomerang-like - that they feel forced to supply, is always going to get high marks in public opinion polls, although mainly it advances one cause: the survival of the government. That popularity rating usually is around 70 percent. Seventy percent supported the assassination of one Abu Ali, whom it's doubtful any one of those questioned for the polls had ever heard of, and the same 70 percent supported the conquest of Beit Jala. Indeed, one can determine an axiom - 70 percent of the public will now support any show of force by the government, including sending a nuclear tipped-missile at Sheikh Yassin's wheelchair.

And at this point in time, just like during the Lebanon War, revealed once again is the artistry of Ariel Sharon - the man who always knew how to start but never how to end a war. He is a grand master at presenting the unimaginable as the inevitable, the possible as the inexorable, in creating chaos out of a vacuum, and infinitely redefining the definitions of targets and objectives - in short, at making it seem as if a state of constant war is not only natural, but almost yearned for.

To make this point clear, we should ask just what exactly is Sharon's definition of "victory" in this war. Just when and how will this victory appear? What will it look like? A Palestinian agreement to negotiate? (they already do). Total silence, not even a rooster cackle in a refugee camp? Arafat - in smoking, torn clothes - coming out with his hands raised in the air, retracting his demands for Jerusalem and giving up territorial contiguity? Maybe all the Palestinian rifles turned into plowshares? Or maybe the assassination of Arafat and the crowning of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad over all the cities of the West Bank? Or is victory, perhaps, mass (Palestinian) migration to Jordan and expansion of the settlements?

Considering all the possibilities, including the most hypothetical, it seems that even a rainbow is more tangible and viable than the definition of victory (and by implication, the definition of the purpose of war), according to Sharon and Mofaz. Therefore, this time, just like in Lebanon, victory will recede the closer we get to it; this time, just like in Lebanon, the skeptics will be silenced with the argument that they are disrupting one last effort, one more round of battle, one more tiny occupation, the fulfillment of one final small condition.

After all, Sharon's kind of war - any war - is one that never ends, or never ends at the right time. It always needs a few more months, a few more years, a few more kilometers, just one more loan (for five or six years) from The Target Bank.

And, indeed, just like during the 18 years of the Lebanon War, we are already used to it: In less than a year we've not only forgotten the hope of peace, we've even forgotten what life looks like without war.