Yesterday was a dry run. The army could not have planned a scenario that more resembled disengagement than what occurred Sunday at Shirat Yam.
The IDF units arrived on the scene with the element of surprise and demolished 11 abandoned buildings with almost no opposition. The casualties were not especially high: 20 wounded, half of them soldiers, and most of them only lightly so.
As compared to the removal of illegal outposts in Judea and Samaria, this was a brilliantly planned military operation. But at the vantage point of perceptions, and this is the real measure of success, the first disengagement exercise was a flop.
No one doubts that the army could evacuate citizens. The question is at what cost, and how many divisions the public is willing to commit to the mission.
Facts versus perception
What remained of yesterday's events was not the fact that the army succeeded in demolishing the buildings that, like the hotel in Neveh Dekalim, may have come to host radicals. What remained was the image of a violent regime.
What remained was the picture of a soldier who refused (what is the question, since no Jew was evacuated from the empty buildings) and became a local hero. A symbol was born. Conscious objection gained legitimacy.
What we also saw was the phony but successful connection between the terror attack in Beit Haggai – the blood, funerals and anger – and the demolition of abandoned buildings in Gaza.
We saw a quiet and embarrassed Hebron Brigade commander facing off an eloquent settler spokesman, who repeatedly connected the demolition with the murder of the youths in Beit Haggai. Jewish protestors, among them a soldier, cursed him, and the colonel, a paratrooper, quietly took his punishment.
And again we saw people squaring off with bulldozers – never a nice picture – and we heard the stories of protesting citizens and a journalist getting beaten up by soldiers. Why?
In all this we did not hear the government's position. If this is the first disengagement exercise, where is the national spokesman? Where are the IDF Spokesman's Office and its plan? Where's strategic PR coordinator of the Prime Minister's Office? What does the government want to do – leave the army all alone?
If the battle of perceptions will continue as it has so far, what will happen in another 50 days? The army will be carrying out disengagement with very little home front left.