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The key to the mystery that is at the core of the important argument between former Military Intelligence commanders may be found in an anecdote told by former MI head Amos Malka to Akiva Eldar (Haaretz, June 11). It turns out that during the first few days of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, soldiers in the territories fired 1,300,000 bullets. This astounding statistic embodies the entire story. This massive firepower is the operational translation of the argument between Malka and Amos Gilad.

In the conflict with the Palestinians, at the end of September 2000, senior IDF commanders adopted Gilad's assessment, which was based on his own perspective, and according to which Yasser Arafat's foray into negotiations was a scheme aimed at leading to Israel's destruction, and that he in no way plans to reach an agreement. This explains what took place once the intifada broke out, and the unrestrained shooting that ensued.

Then-chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, with the support of his senior aides, did not plan to bring about the end of the conflict at its very onset. Having adopted Gilad's approach, he had an opportunity to finally "beat" the Palestinians, to "vanquish" them and lead them to negotiations in a weakened and exhausted state. This is the origin of the "burned into their consciousness" thesis, which became a cornerstone of the Israel Defense Forces' policy in the territories. We'll hit the Palestinians until the recognition of their weakness vis-a-vis Israel's might is burned into their consciousness. This is the only way they will understand that they are best off coming to terms with their inferiority and accepting Israel's demands.

This gave rise to the objective defined by Mofaz, his successor Moshe Ya'alon, and their colleagues in the general staff: achieving military victory in what was at first described as a war with the Palestinians. This explains why the IDF began to use such massive firepower when the uprising broke out in the territories. This also explains why over a million bullets were fired in the first few days, even though there was no operational or professional justification. The intent was to score a winning blow against the Palestinians, and especially against their consciousness. This was not a war on terror, but on the Palestinian people. IDF commanders projected their viewpoint regarding Arafat's intentions onto the entire Palestinian society.

When the intifada began, chief of staff Mofaz bragged that the IDF, which had predicted the outbreak of violence in the territories, declared the year 2000 as "the year of preparedness," and when the violence did indeed break out, that the army was ready for it. But this was not a preparedness for alleviating the violence, but rather for escalating the conflict. Soldiers were given a free hand to shoot without limit. In the first three months of the intifada, the number of Israeli casualties was low, at which time the IDF proudly cited the large number of Palestinian casualties as evidence of the military victory and the correctness of the policy of massive use of force.

Maj. Gen. Malka states that the policy of use of military force caused a flare-up of the fire. In other words, the IDF contributed to the escalation. The Palestinians did not expect such a harsh response by Israel. They hoped that the "model" of the 1996 Western Wall tunnel riots would repeat itself. In other words, a brief outbreak of violence, followed by negotiations, in which they would win another few concessions by Israel. Yet it seems that the IDF actions thwarted the possibility of the violence ending quickly, since the events spun out of the Palestinian leadership's control.

The failure of the senior command level has to do with adoption of Gilad's perception and the unwillingness, or inability, to examine the events from the perspective of the Palestinian public. Senior IDF commanders disregarded, or did not understand, that the unrestrained firing of so much ammunition has implications at the strategic level, and its outcome was liable to spin the violence out of control. The escalation was by this time unavoidable. It was obvious that as long as the IDF high command clung to the idea of the "military victory," it would have to step up military activity and use tanks, helicopters and F-16 jets, which are not the most effective means of waging war on terrorists.

After nearly four years of warfare, one can state with certainty that the IDF indeed succeeded in "burning into the consciousness." Not that of the Palestinians, however. Rather, of the Israeli public, which has adopted without dissent the worldview that has guided commanders of the IDF in their policy in the territories. Amos Gilad beat Amos Malka, and the State of Israel apparently lost.