By Richard Allen Greene
Israel is determined to go ahead with its unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip - regardless of the death of Yasser Arafat and even if settlers resist - a top Israeli general who helped design the plan says.
Brigadier General Eival Gilady, until recently the head of the Israeli army's strategic planning division, said the scheme was necessary because other options had failed.
Protesters have demonstrated against the disengagement plan
"Step-by-step strategies didn't work. The roadmap is phased, not step-by-step. That too failed," he told journalists at a briefing at the Israeli embassy in London.
Israel had settled on unilateral disengagement as "the only way to change the overall strategic situation", he said.
And he said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was determined to push it through, even though some settlers and their allies might resist violently.
The Israeli army has already begun special training to prepare for the potential operation, and Gen Gilady said reservists would be called up to assist.
It is possible that soldiers could tip off family members in settlements about impending operations to remove them, he said.
"If I lived in a settlement and my son was in the army - if you were in that situation, would your son call you and say 'It's going to be tonight'? The answer is yes, absolutely yes," he said.
"We are preparing for every possible scenario. All you need is one crazy guy... and I wish we could say we had none," Gen Gilady said wryly.
Compensation and dismantling
Israel is compensating settlers who leave voluntarily - and will demolish their homes after they go, Gen Gilady said.
Public infrastructure, which he said was what the Palestinians most needed, was to be left.
He said that although Israel had decided to act unilaterally in Gaza - where about 8,000 settlers live among well over a million Palestinians - it was co-ordinating its moves with the Palestinians.
Settlers in Gaza live a very different life from Palestinians
He came across as quite sanguine about what would happen in Gaza when Israel pulled its troops and settlers out.
He said he expected the winner of January's Palestinian presidential election to maintain order - and that it was not necessarily Israel's problem if they did not.
"If there is chaos in Gaza and it stays in Gaza, is it Israel's responsibility to send troops in?
"We will do what we can to support good dynamics over there, but we will not try to solve Palestinian chaos," he said, adding that sending Israeli troops into Gaza to support the Palestinian Authority would not likely be helpful anyway.
But he warned that Israel would not hesitate to act if "chaos leaked out" and affected Israelis.
In general, however, Gen Gilady was notably more optimistic about the future than many Israeli leaders have been since the Palestinian uprising broke out more than four years ago.
Israel has shied away from appearing enthusiastic about the likely election of Mahmoud Abbas to replace Arafat for fear it would harm Mr Abbas's standing.
Gilady says Sharon may not be in a position to push his plan through
But Mr Abbas - also known as Abu Mazen - has a long history of negotiating with Israelis and is regarded as a moderate.
Perhaps the most important variable at the moment, Gen Gilady hinted, was whether Mr Sharon could weather his own political crises over disengagement and the budget.
Mr Sharon currently heads a minority coalition and is fighting to balance competing interests to push his plans through parliament.
"The question now is not if Sharon is serious about disengagement, but if he can do it."