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One could debate whether this was really the ideal time to liquidate Raed Karmi. One could debate whether it was necessary to demolish the houses in Rafah and supply the international media with photographs of women and children left without a roof over their heads. One could debate whether Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is the leader he sets himself up to be or just a politician holding on for dear life. One could debate whether he has a program, let alone a measly idea, on how to achieve peace and security. But there is one thing there can be no doubt about: We are at a dead end, or, as they say in American, in "deep shit." Without the help of the United States, we will never get out of it.

It was the wave of terror and violence initiated by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat that catapulted Sharon into power in an unprecedented landslide victory. As has happened so many times before, Arafat has belatedly discovered that he has made a mistake. From Sharon, he won't get even a crumb of what his predecessor offered. So now his terror is aimed at toppling Sharon.

This guy, Arafat, has a talent for retroactive cleverness. Even now, he fails to understand that the problem is not who the prime minister is, but what Palestinian terror does to Israeli public opinion. Sharon enjoys broad support not because people are in awe of his leadership, but because they have lost all faith in Arafat's promises. The PA leader has created a situation in which the majority of Israelis favor strong retaliation against the Palestinians; and this means that if he deposes Sharon, he will get a government that is even more extreme - not only former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but perhaps even Public Security Minister Uzi Landau, a quiet contender for the leadership of the country.

Arafat has left us with only one strategic option - a war on terror. He has created a vicious circle of attack-reprisal-revenge-preemptive action that could lead, in the end, to an invasion of the territories and a catastrophe for both sides.

So close to establishing a Palestinian state, Arafat did not change his nature and method of operating since his days in Jordan, and, subsequently, Lebanon. Wherever he goes, he sows death and destruction. An agreement signed in the morning is broken in the evening. In Lebanon alone, he violated more than a hundred different accords reached with Israel. With his culture of lies and unreliability, Arafat has made it impossible for us to put our fate in his hands. The portrayal of Arafat as an innocent lamb who doesn't know what is going on and has no control over anything is light years from the truth.

As Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter said not too long ago, Arafat has lent a hand to the establishment of rival bodies and organizations; yet he speaks to them all, and his word means business. The type of arms in the cargo hold of the Karine A, the existence of the Palestinian rocket industry recently exposed by the chief of staff, the ties with Iran and aid from Hezbollah are all indicative of long-range plans.

Arafat wants to create another Lebanon here, to embitter our lives until we flee the territories. But as always, his diagnosis is wrong. For us, Lebanon was a type of Vietnam, the sort of quagmire over which public opinion could be divided. But show me the person who will agree to a Vietnam at home. No one is running away from here so fast, without an agreement that guarantees peace and security. In defense of home and hearth, we are liable to do the craziest things, which could impact on the entire region.

Over the last decade, there have been two historic windows of opportunity - the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Gulf War - that led to Madrid and Oslo. In the wake of September 11, a third window has opened. With the delegitimization of terror, the United States is free to play a vigorous role in halting the spiral of violence. In declaring war on terror, America cannot distinguish between good terror and bad terror. Terror is terror. Arafat must be pressured not into seven days of quiet, and not into seven months of quiet, but into renouncing terror altogether. He must be called to order with the kind of call that can't be refused, and it has to be done before we sit down to discuss "painful concessions."

When the parties cannot extricate themselves on their own from a noose that is only growing tighter, the situation cries out for the aggressive intervention of the United States. We are one step away from disaster here.