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As the date set for disengagement comes closer, a dark cloud looms over Israel in the form of a possible clash between the enforcement authorities of the state, equipped to the nines, and 8,000 settlers stripped of everything they have in the world. Interviewed by NBC, Ariel Sharon, both Ma and Pa of the settlements, described the atmosphere in Israel as civil-warish.

The very thought of several thousand settlers declaring war on the government, as if the forces were even remotely balanced, and using the IDF weapons they have at home, is absurd. Anyone with half a brain can see that the residents of Gush Katif stand no chance against the tremendous might of the state. But that hasn't kept the defense establishment and every one of its branches from preparing for the worst - a violent confrontation and live fire.

From the moment Sharon ordered the defense establishment to gear up for evacuation, a joint staff of defense officials has been hunched over the maps, planning and rehearsing every detail of the pullout. To call up the reserve soldiers or not, to use policemen to spearhead the operation or not. The police are saying that if all their manpower is sent to Gush Katif, it'll be party time for Israel's thieves. As if the thieves aren't partying when the whole police force is in town.

The truth is, the settlers are better at talking than at carrying out their promise to fight to the last drop of blood. The hilltop youth and Kahane boys, who look like your average toughs, are the stage props for the horror show known as civil war. There aren't many of them, so keeping them out of Gush Katif is not such a problem.

But even if access to outside troublemakers is blocked, two dangers remain. One, that while the defense forces are busy evacuating Gush Katif, the Land of Israel hoodlums will disrupt life all over the country, or commit acts that would provoke the Palestinians into carrying out deadly terror attacks. And two, the soldiers and police sent to clear out the settlers could end up clashing with them as the country sits and watches the heartrending scenes on prime-time TV. We've seen such incidents before, at one outpost or another - tears streaming down the girls' faces to the point where you couldn't tell the evacuees from those doing the evacuating. It was tough for both sides. And for the viewers, too.

The danger of some bullet being shot accidentally in the heat of the fray, and that bullet hitting a baby, leading both sides to open fire, is the biggest nightmare of them all. To keep such a thing from happening, the defense minister has decided to round up all the IDF weapons now in the settlers' hands, and have the evacuating force go into the settlements unarmed - a kind of mutual disarmament. But it is hard to believe that the soldiers in the second line of defense would be unarmed.

The possibility of the Palestinians suddenly opening fire during the pullout is not inconceivable. On a stupidity scale of 1 to 10, the Palestinians seem to have this inborn tendency to score 10. It would be mighty embarrassing if the settlers were left with no IDF-issue guns to defend themselves.

The tongue-waggers have come up with the heartless theory that just as Sharon's political standing at home was built on the settlements, humiliating the settlers now will boost him in the eyes of the Israeli public, which wants an accord; in the eyes of Labor and Shinui, as they aim for a government alliance in 2006; in the eyes of the European Union, the United States, Egypt and Jordan; and in the eyes of the Palestinians, of course. A head-on confrontation will get all the crazies creeping out of the woodwork. They will drag out the huge stash of weapons they have tucked away and give Sharon an excuse to return fire, to show who's boss once and for all.

This scenario sounds too Machiavellian for comfort. But Israel has to find a way to get through the disengagement ordeal in one piece. It is important to convey to the residents of Gush Katif, who are facing no small trauma, that it is also hard for those who are escorting them on their way, that the disengagement is being carried out with a tear in their eye and a lump in their throats. It is important that what the right calls the "first transfer of Jews from their homes in three generations" will be implemented efficiently, but also honorably. Disarming the settlers in advance is an unnecessary humiliation.