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While the prime minister declares to his interviewers that war is not in the offing, his ministerial colleagues are deep in expectations for the coming war with the Palestinians. "Preparing for war," is the standard answer now in the corridors of power to the regular question, "What's going on?" Ministers, senior officials and, of course, the top officials in the defense establishment and the IDF all say it. Given the current mood of the nation's stewards, the coming war is a matter of destiny, an inevitable development, whose outbreak depends only on the timing of the next terror attack and the number of resulting casualties.

This forecast requires some analysis. Is war the only logical conclusion of the current confrontation with the Palestinians? Are the expectations about it what really will happen? Is the price being taken into consideration? Can its scope and development be controled, the way its planners assume?

The political lobby for bringing the violent conflict with the Palestinians to a military decision is well known; it is led by the settlers and their right-wing representatives in the government - not only Avigdor Lieberman, Rehavam Ze'evi and Natan Sharanksy, but also a large number of the Likud ministers. There's a clear majority among the decision makers now in favor of going to war.

The logic behind the concept is that the state can not absorb more and more victims of terrorism, that the current methods of fighting Palestinian murders are not effective enough, that the IDF's deterrent capabilities must be proven once again to the Palestinian people and leadership and to the entire Arab world lest Israel end up bleeding forever and becoming weaker and weaker. Behind the demand to declare real war on the Palestinians is also the assumption that a major military blow will return tranquillity to the state and end the 10-month nightmare of terror.

Most of the Labor ministers will also take up the cry after the next major terror attack. A bloodletting as massive as what happened at the Dolphinarium will create a psychological and emotional reaction in the public that will sweep (almost) the entire government, which will decide to flip the safety switch and order the IDF to go into the planned battle. This is supposed to deliver the knockout blow to the Palestinian Authority.

The stage, therefore, has been set for the outbreak of the next wear: wall-to-wall political approval for a military solution to the current crisis, the appropriate international preparations during the period of restraint.

But this scenario has some flaws that should be considered before the IDF opens its all-out assault on the PA.

Will it indeed be the kind of fatal blow that forces Yasser Arafat (or his heirs) to accept Israel's dictates? In other words, is there a reasonable chance that after the blow there will be quiet, though not necessarily a political settlement, or will in fact the blow result in an even deadlier reaction? Does the expectation that the IDF will solve the psychological and political Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with one blow take into account the cost in lives (for both sides)? Can anyone guarantee that the war won't spill out of the West Bank and Gaza into the neighboring countries?

The last question is Ariel Sharon's conundrum. If he moves the government to authorize war on the Palestinian Authority, he'll expose Israel to the dangers of regional and international complications. A full-scale war will result in international intervention that (in the best of circumstances) will require him to present far-reaching political proposals to neutralize the impression created by a military blow in Gaza and the West Bank. And if he tries to avoid that by ordering only a limited military operation, it won't do anything, or may exacerbate, the very circumstances that now create the conditions for a major war.

Conclusion: As far as can already be seen, war - small, medium-sized or large - is not a solution to the current crisis.