With an outburst of explosives and rage, the army has started taking over Rafah in yet another attempt to cut off the arm of terror in Gaza. In the West Bank, it was Operation Defensive Shield. Now it's Operation Rainbow - an ironic image of something that disappears after a short period of time. The chief of staff, unable last week to prevent a second fatal mistake after committing the first - by dispatching vulnerable armored personnel vehicles loaded with explosives and soldiers - now asks his listeners to believe that the new raid will be more successful than the dozens that preceded it. With all the casualties and the refugees fleeing for their lives, this is a vain hope. There is no purpose in painting a rainbow when the cloud darkening the sky is the army's presence in the Gaza Strip.
For amid the death and destruction, not even the tip of the tail of the withdrawal from Gaza can be spotted. The prime minister promises to bring a revised plan to the cabinet in two weeks or so. There, too, the chances are slim. He does not yet have a majority, and it is unclear if he will. He will not be able to blow up nor expel Benjamin Netanyahu, Silvan Shalom or Limor Livnat, and will have a difficult time disengaging from the Benny Elons and the Effi Eitams in his absurd coalition. Seasoned observers such as Dan Meridor, for example, are predicting a second defeat for the prime minister in the cabinet.
Yet even without having anything to do with this prediction, what is happening in Gaza is a quintessential case of the systematic breakdown of decision-making in a seemingly sophisticated organization. The chief of staff, who speaks of the necessity to demolish hundreds of houses, is seeking to achieve a tactical advantage after the humiliation he suffered. It is hard to recall when any such attempt was made by the army under such a poor set of circumstances. The government is not willing to concede the West Bank, and Operation Defensive Shield was meant to buttress its hold there. Gaza has been marked for evacuation. Aren't the general staff and the minister of defense - setting aside the prime minister for a moment - capable of internalizing the fact that all of the hundreds of attempts to wipe out the infrastructure of terror have been hurled back in the face of their hopeless pretension? And what will happen after the IDF, in keeping with its promise, leaves Rafah in the near future?
After all, every child in Sderot knows that one of the best armies in the world did not succeed in stopping even a blatant provocation such as the Qassams launched at the Israeli town. Did not Sharon say just last year that the way had been found to wipe out the terror? This ambitious pronouncement reminds one of the promise made by the late energy minister Yaakov Meridor to light up Ramat Gan with a single bulb. Through its army and its leadership, Israel resembles the sorcerer's apprentice. It is trying to beat back the flood of terror with buckets, and is only getting more soaked. The redoubled effort to prove its ability and its brawn itself does harm to the very same image of Israeli military might that Sharon, Mofaz and Ya'alon now wish to restore.
No less important is the political horizon of the disengagement initiative. Sharon is begging his rejecters to help him. This only makes them laugh because the object of his high-ranking adversaries is not to thwart what seems to them a blunder. Their main interest, cynical and cold, is to throw out Sharon and replace him. Every request for political grace gives them immense pleasure, as they see in their mind's eye the coup de grace that they may soon be able to bring down on his career.
In the meantime, there is an upsurge in the accusations related to irregularities and to what Amnesty International, which is of course accused of hostility toward Israel, describes in a new report as war crimes. The 25 foreign ministers of the EU, another enemy, have condemned the house demolitions. A report issued by the American administration - a friend, but one that is itself entangled in a mess - said this week that the Israeli record in human rights violations in the territories remains poor and has even deteriorated.
In the meantime, Shinui, like Issachar in Jacob's blessing, "is a strong donkey, lying down between two burdens."
In spite of the danger to himself, it is now Sharon's unreserved obligation to bring disengagement to the cabinet, and to do so quickly. Any delay would be a crime against Israeli interests. These interests and desires are the undeniably proven will of the majority. If Sharon were willing to sacrifice his own life in battle, he should be prepared to immediately put his political life to the test in the cabinet - whether he survives it or not.
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