Analysis / To Withdraw From Gaza, Israel Must Occupy It

Recent events have further complicated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to leave Gaza. It is impossible to implement Sharon's plan under the present security circumstances, and this can only be changed by occupying the Gaza Strip in order to withdraw from it.

Before the IDF can evacuate Gaza, it will have to reoccupy it, in an effort to eliminate - or minimize - the ability to launch rockets and suicide bombers from it.

The Egyptians are not in control of Gaza. Nobody is, although Yasser Arafat has influence over it, as does Hamas' overseas leadership. About a month ago this leadership acted to moderate the rocket firing in exchange for the IDF's refraining from destructive invasions into Beit Hanun. However, in recent weeks the deal crumbled. One of the current IDF operation's goals is to make Hamas resume those understandings.

Sources in the southern command believe the chances for this are slim, in the absence of a chain of command that could make such a decision and enforce it on the firing groups.

The IDF hates the Gaza evacuation plan, which the cabinet has not yet finally ratified. It hates the ambiguity of its evasive timetable and the escalation it evoked on the Palestinian side. Evacuating settlements, without an agreement on the other side, will not end the fighting nor bring security to Sderot. It will only stop the mortar shells from Khan Yunis to Neveh Dekalim.

Before the evacuation the IDF will occupy large territories around the settlements, remove the settlers and fight on the way out, only to return and invade the Strip again after the next firing incident.

The two Palestinians who leaped over the barrier near Nissanit, a settlement near the Green Line, yesterday, could easily have reached any point in the center of Israel. Equipped with an explosive belt and IDF uniforms, they walked past the policeman and soldiers' post between Nissanit and Erez, continuing south to the Yad Mordechai junction.

They were but an hour's ride from Tel Aviv. The two were discovered and killed only because they decided to attack a resident and a soldier who rushed to her rescue.

The situation in Gaza is very much the opposite of that in the West Bank. In Gaza there is a fence, almost no terrorist penetration, rocket launching and almost no Israeli military presence in the cities.

In the West Bank there is not enough fence, many penetrations, almost no shooting at Israeli towns and constant military presence in the cities. The IDF's conclusion is simple: the fence must be completed in the West Bank, and an operation like Defensive Shield must be launched in the West Bank, to force the militants to fight and keep forces within range of raids and arrests of densely populated areas.

The difficulty in this is not only the cost of the operation, in IDF and Palestinian casualties, in televised destruction, harassment in the UN and the Hague and thinning out the troops in the central command. The real problem is the contradiction between the political plan and the military activity.

Sharon hoped that evacuating the Gaza settlements would end the evacuations for years. But the escalation would encourage international involvement to achieve a cease-fire based on understandings.

The outside bodies that will bring Sderot the quiet that Sharon, Mofaz and Ya'alon failed to achieve will say the evacuation was an important precedent, but not entirely successful, and that the West Bank must be evacuated with an agreement.

The escalation in Gaza has turned Sharon into his own enemy. He is trapped, he has lost control over his destiny, he cannot withdraw and cannot stay, and he is waiting for larger forces than him, world forces, to save him.