Text size

Even Albert Einstein would have had a hard time making sense of the national security debate raging in these parts. Even he wouldn't be able to resolve the question of whether or not the terror barrel has a bottom. In principle, there is no barrel without a bottom. But assuming there is, if you got to the bottom and didn't find what you were looking for, what would you do? Start all over again, ad infinitum? Is there a scientific formula for that in this universe of ours?

It is not clear how a debate over something as critical to our survival as the war on terror, between two big cheeses in the defense establishment, could turn into an argument over barrels. The head of the Shin Bet, Avi Dichter, who thinks that terror can be wiped out by force, once used the lawn mower metaphor: Every time the grass grows, you mow it again. But that expression didn't catch on in the media, or maybe it didn't convey his point properly. Because if terror grows back, that means there is no absolute end to it.

The bottom of a barrel symbolizes something that has an end. Ergo, eliminating terror by force is possible. But not according to Military Intelligence chief Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, who said this week that you can empty one barrel, but as soon as you're done new ones will pop up. So that's what the two men responsible for our security are driving us crazy about.

Dichter says that terror can be wiped out and Ze'evi-Farkash says it can't be done by military means. The difference between them is like the difference between a police officer on the beat and a professor of criminology, who specializes in theory. One believes in foiling crime and meting out punishment on the spot, while the other sees the bigger picture: social background, motivation, humiliation and poverty - factors that breed children who follow in their fathers' footsteps.

Dichter believes in prevention, in tracking down and destroying. Ze'evi-Farkash, the "national assessor," sees the panoramic picture. In his view, as long as the Palestinians have more to lose, their motivation for terror will grow. As long as life sucks and their national aspirations are not achieved, terror will increase.

The chief of staff and the defense minister are also at odds on this issue. Ya'alon - and most of the top generals, in fact - agree with Ze'evi-Farkash. The Israeli macho has finally grasped that force must be combined with a political initiative. And that's a dramatic about-face if there ever was one.

We may be talking about the intifada, but Major General Gaby Ashkenazy is right in saying that this is out-and-out war - a four-year war, the longest, most unwinnable war that Israel has ever known. Israel's generals say that the important thing is the process and not the number of wanted men we bump off. But what good is it if, despite our presence in the territories, despite blowing up houses, despite liquidating terror bosses, seizing bomb-making equipment and shooting down a Scud with our Arrow missile somewhere in California - those schlocky metal pipes known as Qassam rockets turn Sderot into another Kiryat Shmona?

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz supports Dichter's contention that terror can be beaten. In his very first week as defense minister, Mofaz made it clear he believed that the barrel had a bottom. What we had to do, he said, was cut off the sources of supply and funding, and get rid of the terrorist ringleaders. Only then could we enter into a dialogue and reach an agreement with the leaders of the intifada generation. Even in his chief of staff days, Mofaz was in favor of knocking off Arafat, whereas this option is not part of the global-intellectual approach taken by our national assessor.

As for what will happen if terror from Gaza continues after the withdrawal, Mofaz leaves nothing to the imagination: "We can't operate according to the principle of never going back. If we need to, we'll go in and do what needs to be done."

Looking at all this confusion, with Sharon busy assembling a broad coalition in favor of leaving the Gaza Strip, and Israel entering an era of political maneuvering and pressure, the time has come to say: Hey guys, make up your minds already! Quit arguing over whether or not a barrel has a bottom and start looking for one that has prospects for a political settlement inside. Without that, we'll never see the end of terror.