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On August 27, 2001, the Israel Defense Forces was faced with the opportunity to assassinate Abu Ali Mustafa, secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and it acted upon it. In response, members of the organization murdered minister Rehavam Ze'evi.

On January 14, 2002, Israel liquidated Raed Karmi, a Tanzim leader in the Tul Karm area. Three days later, an Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades activist murdered six people at a bat mitzvah celebration in Hadera, thereby marking Fatah's adoption of the tactic of carrying out suicide attacks within Israel, previously employed only by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The time that has passed has yet to impress on the captains of the defense establishment that the use of brute force against the Palestinians elicits a painful response - as shown once again three days ago, in the terror attacks at the Gush Etzion junction and near Eli.

When three young Israelis are laid to rest, and seven wounded individuals are writhing in agony as a result of terror attacks perpetrated by Palestinians, one's heart goes out to the bereaved and affected families, and anger over the murderous Palestinian violence rises anew. Nevertheless, identifying with the pain of the victims does not negate the need to point out shortcomings in the thought processes among the professional ranks of the defense establishment and the political echelon in charge of them.

Since the completion of the disengagement, Israeli security forces have killed at least 24 Palestinians, including a 13-year-old resident of the Askar refugee camp near Nablus, and two youths, aged 16 and 17, in Tul Karm (B'Tselem figures as of September 30, 2005). Over the past two months, Israel has arrested some 700 Palestinians defined as "wanted men." On a daily basis, the public is informed of raids by IDF units and undercover Border Police forces on targets throughout the West Bank, with the results being more arrests, sometimes several dozen a day; and the confrontations sometimes end in the killing of wanted Palestinians.

The operations are justified by clear-cut security needs: Because the Palestinian Authority is ineffective, ensuring the safety of the citizens of Israel rests with its government, and it is acting as it sees fit to live up to its task. And, indeed, the comprehensive arrest campaign has led to the exposure of a number of terror infrastructures, including one particularly dangerous and widespread Hamas one.

It is difficult, of course, to challenge the security concept that forms the basis for this method of operation: Who can guarantee that there would be no terror attacks without it? Who can be sure there is a more effective way?

Nevertheless, it includes something of an exhibitionistic element, which may be more detrimental than beneficial: The IDF is operating in the West Bank as if it were its own backyard. Despite the fact that the territory, in part, has been given over to PA control, Israeli forces are going in with their heads held high and demonstrating a high-profile presence. Among other things, it appears this approach is designed to constitute a challenge to the PA leadership and a belittling of the heads of the terror organizations.

The assassinations of Abu Ali Mustafa and Raed Karmi taught, in hindsight, that the provocation inherent in these operations was a significant factor in the decisions by the Palestinian terror groups to respond to them harshly. The impression one gets from the military operations that the IDF has been conducting in the West Bank since the disengagement is that political considerations are not high on the agenda during the discussions on the operations. The arrogance reflected in them is an indication of military narrow-mindedness that fails to appropriately take into account the psyche of the enemy, and certainly not the needs of Abu Mazen, who is, allegedly, a partner and not a rival.

This policy falls under the "day-to-day security" routine that is being directed by the prime minister and the defense minister; the remaining ministers do not have a hand in the matter. It is both strange and infuriating to see that the Labor ministers have accepted this situation; after all, they reason their continued partnership in the government on their desire to promote a settlement with the Palestinians and block any sharp right turns in Ariel Sharon's policies. How will Shimon Peres and his colleagues live up to this task if they have no control over the finger on the trigger?