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The letter of the combat reserve officers who have refused to serve in the territories is the kind of incident that should make our hearts skip a beat. To begin with, it is intolerable for soldiers to presume to have the right to refuse an order. There can be no understanding for such a thing, no matter how you look at. Today they refuse to serve in the territories; tomorrow they refuse to evacuate the territories. The army is not the Histadrut labor federation; in the army, you don't go on strike.

Secondly, this letter of protest, as mild as it may be, signals a national mood that could spread quickly into a kind of civil insurrection and the onset of domestic chaos. The protest of one soldier, a guy named Motti Ashkenazi, after the fiasco of the Yom Kippur War, snowballed to the point at which Mapai was kicked out of power for generations.

Thirdly, the idea of the government, as supreme commander of the army, charging ahead with the cry "After me!," only to find that there isn't anyone behind it, is enough to send shivers down your spine. A country that relies on a reserve army needs a national consensus among its soldier-civilians. An ever-deepening rift between soldiers and government policy is a sign that the nation's inner strength is crumbling.

The intifada has flipped us out, of that there is no doubt. You can see it in our military responses, and also in the public's creeping despair, as we realize that our power is ineffective in this kind of warfare. What haven't former prime minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon done to try crush Palestinian violence? Bombs dropped from F-16s - something we never imagined in our wildest dreams would be put to such use - together with every possible method of destruction, sieges and closures, tanks and helicopters, pre-emptive strikes and assassinations.

Today, former heads of the Shin Bet security service say that Israel's liquidation policy has not proved itself. What was meant to be an ounce of prevention has been interpreted by the world as Murder Inc., and by the Palestinians as yet another excuse for a mass terrorist attack. According to every criterion laid down by our leaders, wiping out terror by military means has been a miserable failure.

In sizing up the damage, we come off much worse than the other side. True, we have inflicted a tremendous amount of physical damage, but we have also increased the Palestinians' hatred and motivation. There is nothing more dangerous and more cruel than a desperate enemy.

The damage on our side is psychological: We live in constant fear of the next suicide bomber. The demise of the tourist industry, the halt in investments, the social situation, the impotence of our leaders, the steady crawl toward foreign pastures (for those who are able) all attest to the depth of the psychological wounds. When we get to the point at which reserve soldiers think they're in the wrong war, that's when we'll know we have crossed the red line.

We don't owe any leader a free hand to wreck our country. In one sphere, Barak and Sharon have operated like Siamese twins: Both have sought to "expose the true face" or "pull the mask off" Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. The idea is to keep America's support for us going strong. But in order to show the Palestinians' true face, we don't have to work too hard. We know exactly what they look like.

Over there, there is no such thing as balking at an order to kill women and children. There are no protest letters from officers. We could write an entire encyclopedia of butchery about what they have done to us and have tried to do to us over the past 70 years. But that is not the point. This is the nation with which we must live and with which we must compromise and reach an agreement.

To be on good terms with America is very important, and after the Twin Towers, U.S. President George W. Bush has a better understanding of our concerns and fears. But those who pretend that all is well do not bring us one iota closer to a solution. On the contrary, they reinforce the status quo, and that is as good as moving backward.

The media have often berated Sharon for not speaking to the people. Now that we've heard him speak non-stop on the eve of his trip to America, we know why. He has nothing to say; he has no plan; he has no political solution; he has no military solution. Forget peace. Forget security. With Sharon approaching his second year in office, his failure as a leader is already carved into the wall. Now is the time to do or die.