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Eleven years ago, during the Gulf War, the United States and its allies amassed 500,000 troops in Saudi Arabia and deployed large naval and air force units in the area prepared to overcome the Iraqi military forces under Saddam Hussein's orders. Their superiority over the Iraqi forces was overwhelming but the mission assigned to them by U.S. president George Bush Sr., was limited - liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.

After that was accomplished, the U.S. declared victory and withdrew its forces from the area. Saddam Hussein remained in power in Baghdad with most of his military forces intact, while managing to hide some of his ballistic missiles and chemical and bacteriological production facilities, remaining a danger to the peace of the world.

Bush left unfinished business behind and eleven years later his son, George W. Bush Jr. is saddled with the job of dealing with the Iraqi dictator. Had General Schwartzkopf been assigned the mission of attaining victory over Saddam Hussein's forces, the world would have been saved a great deal of trouble. That lesson seems to have been learned by President Bush Jr. during the military operations in Afghanistan. General Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, has been assigned the mission of attaining victory in Afghanistan.

At the time, it was argued that pursuing the Iraqi forces to Baghdad would involve house-to-house fighting and many casualties among the U.S. military and Iraqi civilians, and would lead to the American forces getting bogged down in Iraq. In addition, it was felt that after Saddam's downfall, the situation in Iraq might actually get worse rather than better. The reasoning was faulty, and the result was a serious mistake.

Fifteen months ago Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, decided to launch war against Israel. With the weapons at his disposal and utilizing the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in addition to his own military units, he has succeeded in inflicting 250 casualties on Israel and causing significant damage to the Israeli economy. Although the IDF enjoys overwhelming superiority, it has not put an end to Palestinian violence.

What is the mission that the government has assigned to the IDF in this conflict with the Palestinian Authority? Although there has not been a clear statement of mission forthcoming from all the governmental deliberations and ministerial statements, it is clear from the IDF's activities these past 15 months that Chief of Staff General Shaul Mofaz has received a succession of mixed signals from the government throughout this period.

Spells of unilateral cease-fire declared by the prime minister and the absence of any response to major acts of terror, have been followed by cabinet decisions that the IDF would respond to every act of Palestinian violence. From avoiding entry into areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority, the IDF has moved to limited entry followed by withdrawal, and eventually to extended stays in some of these areas to be followed again by withdrawal. Some Palestinian towns have been blockaded, and some of the blockades have been relaxed.

In the meantime, throughout all this, the foreign minister has been busy trying to arrange a cease-fire and carrying on secret negotiations with Arafat and his emissaries (alternately rejected and endorsed by the prime minister) that would presumably lead to an accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians.

Why has not the government charged the IDF with the mission of defeating the Palestinian military and terrorist forces? Of disarming their military units and entering Palestinian towns and dismembering the command structure of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and PFLP that direct the activities of the suicide bombers? In other words, of attaining victory in this war that Arafat has launched?

The answer most frequently heard is that this is not possible. That the IDF would get involved in house-to-house fighting and would get bogged down in areas heavily populated by Palestinians. That it would suffer heavy casualties and that such IDF action would result in many civilian casualties. Or else, that victory over the Palestinian Authority would bring about a situation still worse than the present one. Or from Shimon Peres' corner, that peace with the Palestinians is not only possible but almost around the corner if it were only left up to him.

The upshot seems to be that our government is on the point of repeating the mistake made by George Bush Sr. 11 years ago. It will learn the hard way that there is no substitute for victory, and that if an accommodation with the Palestinians is possible, it will come only after an Israeli victory.