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It is incredible how the commanders of such an experienced army have walked straight into their own booby trap. Many humble non-combatants have discreetly asked themselves this week what the point is of the operation in Rafah. How could it possibly succeed? How could something not go wrong?

The defense minister and the chief of staff added to these misgivings with their insipid, worrying remarks. Dangerous tunnels, terrorist infrastructure, wanted men, plans to advance slowly this time - and raze hundreds of buildings. And as they said these things, Operation Rainbow turned into one of the Israel Defense Forces' most embarrassing campaigns yet. The troops may have moved slowly, but failure came fast. And over it fluttered a black flag of violating international law.

We are looking at the classic case of an army with unreasonable objectives marching into a predictable ambush. The IDF was sent in to restore the momentum and reputation it had damaged so badly last week. It will be returning from Rafah very soon with these two components of military might sadly diminished. Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya'alon have shown such poor judgment that if they were running a corporation, they'd be out on the doorstep: The stocks have hit rock bottom; the goals are unachievable and the world market has responded with a thumbs down. The board of directors would send them packing with a golden parachute. The trouble is that the army's board of directors is the government, which is guilty of strange behavior itself and headed by a leader who is losing altitude.

This combination of a government that has no path and an army that has lost its way because of it, has been harming national interests for years. It's not only war, as they say, that is too serious to be left to the generals. The same holds true for civilian government. The understanding that exists between the top brass in the army and the government is what contributes to the lack of clear "civilian" thinking and critical awareness. How can any creative policy emerge from a line-up that consists of Sharon, Mofaz and Ya'alon, with ministers like Benny Elon, whose latest idea is to send the Palestinians to Australia, screaming on the sidelines?

So we are in bad hands no matter where you look. These hands have pushed Israel into the abyss of misguided thinking. What happened in Rafah this week is the same kind of sudden dramatic reversal that caused France to pull out of Algeria. After their defeat in the casbahs and the tunnels, the Algerians began to march en masse toward the gun barrels pointed at them. Here, too, Palestinian despair confronted Israeli military resolve. A crowd of 1,500 demonstrators, including women and children, armed themselves this week with a secret weapon that has no match: the knowledge that they have nothing to lose.

Just as the army has lost its bearings, so Israeli politics is no longer worthy of the name. It has become a bastion of partisan gangs operating in total chaos, blackmailing Sharon and one another. Silvan Shalom, a member of the club, will probably get the disengagement plan passed with his vote, but not before receiving some assurances on another matter entirely: his political future in a job where he does the opposite of what he tells his ambassadors to do.

Even the recovery of Labor and Yahad is the result of being shoved forward by what is going on rather than leading it. Shimon Peres thinks that life begins at 80, as Churchill ironically put it, and is still crawling toward the government. If Shinui represents anything today, it is the public's bewilderment. Presiding over the tumult in our government of midgets is a man whose commitment to carry out the disengagement plan, even using his new salami technique, is not yet quite believable. Now he has pulled out of the drawer a military plan that the general staff hesitated over for a long time, and hopes, using all the brute force he can muster, to appease the terrorist gangs in the government.

We're in bad hands. Sometimes they're not clean. Even when they're holding the gun, they have started shaking. But it's a poor man's comfort when the hands of your government tremble in times of crisis, rocking the boat even harder.