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Those who disagree with fighting terrorism, wrote the expatriate British columnist Christopher Hitchens in the Atlantic Monthly, "are of the sort who, discovering a viper in the bed of their child, would place the first call to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals."

Hitchens was writing last year of those who opposed going to war after September 11, but in the Israeli context his comment could be applied to the settlers - those who shake the child's crib after insisting on putting it into a nest of vipers.

These are the ones who scuffle with the representatives of a government - one tainted with helping the settlers - when law enforcement comes to evacuate them by government decree.

In the middle of last week IDF commanders finished working on details of evacuating two wildcat outposts - Havat Gilad and Givat Assaf. It was to be a division-level operation, under the command of Col. David Menachem, brigadier for the Ephraim district, with forces equal to two brigades. There would be regiments of police (including the public order regiment), the Border Patrol, and the Military Police, backed by by four regiments from a Golani training base.

The only thing missing was a group of soldiers disguised as settlers, like the units disguised as Arabs. Menachem is subordinate to the commander of the Judea and Samaria Corps, Brig. Gen. Gershon Yitzhak, who conducted operation "Exposed Hill" in coordination with the Judea and Samaria district police commander Shahar Eilan.

The plans were presented to the general of the central command, to chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, and to the political leaders. Until then, the timing of the operation was kept secret even from the soldiers meant to take part in it. Minutes - some say seconds - after the presentation was made to the prime minister, defense minister, and public security minister, the beepers went off on settler leaders' belts telling them when the operation would begin (the next day) and which outposts would be evacuated. The settlers readied their masses, resisted the evacuation, and injured dozens of police and soldiers.

By any reasonable standard, that is breach of trust, worse than when former public security minister Avigdor Kahalani was put on trial (and exonerated), and Commander Yossi Levy, who confessed and was convicted in a plea bargain. They were suspected of giving inside information from the criminal investigation of Ofer Nimrodi to Nimrodi.

This time it wasn't the criminal investigation of an opponent using intelligence tricks, but the plans for a military operation. If a journalist had published the information - or tipped off the targets of the operation - the reporter would have been condemned and possibly put on trial. Public Security Minister Uzi Landau, always a bitter opponent of leaks from law enforcement agencies, would have been the first to condemn the journalist.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not bear sole responsibility for the fact that the settlers are like the Phalangists in Lebanon. Years of partnership, brotherhood, and communications through winks and nods have fouled up the IDF's instruments for "identifying the enemy" until it has reached the point that it can't tell the difference anymore between friend and foe.

When the state of Israel wants, it has the instruments necessary to fight illegal construction, refusal to comply with the law, and assault on public servants. Demolition orders are issued, the bailiff is sent, the criminals are fined to the tune of millions of shekels (that would be deducted from the settlement budgets). Threats are made - and to the extent that they are justified, the threats are followed through - to stop settler youths from joining combat units, whether as conscripts or as reservists. When they want to, they join the ranks of the army, and when they want to they fight the army.

The outpost affair proves that the regime in Israel, which rhetorically expresses reservations about soldiers getting their orders from rabbis, remains strong. According to Israeli tradition, soldiers get their orders from their commanders, who get them from the chief of staff, who gets them from the elected government, which gets its orders from the rabbis. That's how the system makes the army subordinate to the government and the government subordinate to rabbis.

One of Saddam' Hussein's aides recently proposed that instead of an American-Iraqi war, there should be an all-star football game between the two presidents and their ministers. In the confrontation between the enemies of compromise and peace, the Palestinians and the settlers, many Israelis would be happy to watch from the sidelines.