Text size

On March 3, a policeman from the Shimshon subdistrict appeared at the offices of the Katif religious council and asked for the keys to the local cemetery. The Gaza evacuation plan includes a section that requires the number of deceased residents of the settlements to be counted. Attorney Malkiel Blass of the Ministry of Justice issued the request to the police's Southern District, which passed it on to the subdistrict, which dispatched a cop to the cemetery, in order to conduct an exact accounting of the graves - of which there are approximately 30 - in order to make plans for their transferal.

"The dead die and the living live," as Ariel Sharon likes to say, quoting the chief of staff at the time of the reprisal raids, Moshe Dayan, upon hearing Sharon's report on the number of fallen IDF troops when he left Gaza after the big raid there (known as "Black Arrow") on February 28, 1955. Sharon interprets the line to mean that the dead are not a reason to stay in Gaza, and that the living should be protected. The same insight lies at the heart of his decision half a century later to pursue civil disengagement from Gaza. Too many people were killed, mainly outside Gaza, not inside, before Sharon shook off the illusion that Gaza Strip settlements offer any added value to the security of Israel's citizenry.

The terrorist bombing at Ashdod's port is only representative; one could draw up hundreds of similar scenarios of attacks, whether using disguises or disguised vehicles, whether using weapons or explosives (or chemical, biological or radiological materials), against government, defense or infrastructure targets across Israel. Anyone who can reach Ashdod is also capable - providing that he listens to the radio traffic reports and can avoid the traffic jam by the Sayarim gas station - of stealing an official car and blowing himself up in it at the crowded entrance to a guarded government compound. There is no need to be Alex Averbuch to pole vault over the fences of central headquarters; all it takes is a short leap off the roof of an adjacent hitchhiking post. Less determination was needed to infiltrate Red Square with a light aircraft, or to reach assassination range of the White House with a rifle.

Military Intelligence research division chief Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser predicted in the first week of October 2000 that the Palestinian violence would not soon subside, but that it would evolve into a "Six Year War." Three and a half years later, there are still no signs that he erred by much, whether you take into account leaving Gaza or not. There are no signs of Palestinian readiness to accept real responsibility for evacuated territories. Every teenager with a rifle, MI analysts say, has veto power over the leadership's decisions.

In unveiling the Gaza evacuation plan, Sharon tripped himself up, because the failure to implement it will make him look too weak to hold onto his administration, and he will no doubt fail to implement it, if he has the chance, because he seems too weak to hold onto his administration. There is no majority for his plan within his party or in his coalition in its current makeup, and he lacks the support of the IDF General Staff and the White House. The army's opposition to the plan, even if it is stifled, is already providing ammunition for the opposition effort, and President Bush is not about to squander precious political capital on a politically bankrupt prime minister, especially one faced by the growing threat of two indictments (substantial breakthroughs have recently been made in one of the cases, which involves the donor Cyril Kern). Sharon is prepared to risk the possibility of Hamas gaining control over Gaza for compensation in the form of greater Israeli entrenchment in the West Bank. The Americans - and the Republicans - hold a different view. Bush, who is both fighting terror and dissociating himself from occupation, will brook neither entrenchment nor risk.

A decade ago, former Marine commander General Charles Krulak coined the term "strategic corporal": the squad leader who could affect the fate of wars, nations and leaders through impulsive or correct decisions - opening fire on civilians or saving his forces from massacre. In an important article in the Israeli military journal Ma'arachot, Colonel Gal Hirsh, a former commander of the Binyamin regional brigade (which includes Ramallah) and former chief operations officer of the Central Command, describes how Krulak's strategic corporal was adapted by the IDF for the Palestinian conflict. Hirsh, who ranks among the top ten IDF officers deserving credit for seriousness of purpose when it comes to military preparation for the conflict (others include the generals Uzi Dayan, Moshe Ya'alon and Yitzhak Eitan), states that in the year leading up to September 2000, the Central Command made efforts to build and maintain a "tunnel to a permanent settlement," on the assumption that the Palestinian side would act with "diplomatic logic." This assumption proved false, but it took a year and a half of respecting Palestinian Authority sovereignty and attempting to "leverage" it into an effort to quell the terror before Operation Defensive Shield was launched, and following it, what Hirsh calls "regulation" of the border by means of the separation fence and raids and searches, as a substitute for a negotiated settlement that refuses to come.

The governmental machinery will continue to churn out papers and count graves, without any real purpose, because in the absence of anyone running the show on the other side with whom Israel might be able to dialogue, the desires of prime ministers count less than the willingness of teenagers to voluntarily strap on ten-kilogram explosive belts. The latter have the power to tip the scales, and in so doing becoming strategic shahids (martyrs).