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Over the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces rebuffed criticism of the manner in which it is conducting its raids into the Gaza Strip, in the wake of the first volley of rockets that landed in the Negev (more were fired yesterday), with a winning argument: They are designed to minimize casualties. And to illustrate the explanation, the military released figures showing that the relationship between the number of soldiers killed and the civilian death count since the outbreak of the intifada is 1:4, in favor of the uniform-wearers.

When dealing with Palestinian terror, the IDF wants to say, the lives of the soldiers are its uppermost consideration. This, of course, is a heart-warming attitude, which no one disputes, yet it also incorporates a hidden state of mind: Israeli society is not willing to sacrifice itself for the sake of keeping a hold on the territories.

The IDF's declared ethos has always been to minimize, insofar as possible, the loss of life from among our forces. But in times of battle that is deemed necessary, the planning echelon, like the commanders and fighters in the field, have always conducted the campaign while filled with the sense that they are defending their homeland and their families and for this, they are willing to lay down their lives. When embarking on a mission, the principal motivation was to carry it out, not to return home safely.

These days, the state of mind of the supreme command, like that of the secondary commanders and the rank-and-file fighters, is significantly different: There is no sign of the "to-die-and-take-the-mountain" enthusiasm. The overriding approach - from the planning stage and through to the actions of the last private in the field - reflects a desire to return to base without casualties.

It is easy to simply accept the explanation that the nature of the task - coping with terrorism, assaults on pinpoint targets - is dictating the operational mood; but such an explanation presents only a part of the picture and reflects a refusal to look reality in the eye.

In the 1950s, the state's war against terror was fought with a completely different attitude, primarily because it sensed that it was defending its home. Today, the IDF is playing its cards very carefully in the face of Palestinian terror because it has to consider the degree of national consensus for its actions. The sense that there is no alternative, that the victims are an inevitable price to pay in the struggle to guarantee our national existence is no longer taken for granted; in any event, it is not shared by all sections of the public.

As a result, the right wing's expectations for a government decision on an all-out war against the Palestinian Authority are going unanswered - not only because such a war is likely to ignite the entire region; and not only because reoccupying the territories will, in the end, only bring the two sides back to the bloody crossroads at which they now stand; but also, and perhaps primarily, because a full-scale war is likely to exact hundreds of casualties from among the IDF, and it is becoming more and more apparent that Israeli society is not prepared to pay such a price.

The armed conflict with the Palestinians is not perceived as a fight for the survival of the State of Israel, but rather as an unfortunate entanglement, stemming from the decision to establish settlements on land occupied in the Six-Day War. The casualties of the conflict, civilians and soldiers alike, including those of the last 24 hours, are seen as random victims of an irresolvable reality, and not the "silver platter" [reference to Natan Alterman's poem, "The Silver Platter," in which he likened the soldiers who died in the War of Independence to a "silver platter" on which the state was handed to the Jewish people] - be their personal contribution to the state as noble as it may be.

In the national subconscious, occupation of the territories is perceived as a temporary condition during which the number of those who give their lives for it must be kept to the barest minimum (only the hard core among the settlers display a readiness to pay the bloody price involved in prolonging the occupation). For now, this is a latent attitude, due, among other reasons, to the fact that it is mixed with a wall-to-wall rejection of the Palestinian demand to exercise the right of return within the Green Line.

If the Palestinians were to accept the Israeli condition and see the establishment of their state as the solution to the refugee problem, Israel's willingness to give up the territories would take center stage.