Interesting: There are about 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, 50-odd Muslim countries, all of them with armies, lots of them with missiles that could hit Israel, all of them hating Israel's guts worse than ever these last few weeks - and not one of them lifted a finger against us. Most interesting was Hizbullah. It's sitting right on top of us with more than 40,000 rockets; it could have rained hell on this country and become the heroes of the entire outraged Muslim world - and it did nothing. While Israel was laying waste to Gaza and Al Jazeera was broadcasting it 24 hours a day, all that came out of south Lebanon was a half-dozen rockets, one of which damaged a bathroom at a Nahariya old age home and shook the folks up, the rest of which landed in empty fields. Neither Hizbullah nor anybody else in Lebanon dared take credit even for those "attacks." Elsewhere in the region, there were a few errant shots fired at Israelis from across the borders in Jordan and Syria, with no one taking credit for those "operations" either. That was it. That was the sum total of the greater Muslim world's military response to Operation Cast Lead. For all their yelling and all their weapons, Hizbullah didn't lift a finger against Israel, neither did Syria and neither did Iran. Why? Because they didn't want to? Of course they wanted to. They would have won such glory among Muslims everywhere. They might have even forced an alarmed Bush administration to order Israel to stop fighting so as to avoid a wider, uncontrollable war - which would have humiliated Israel and exalted Hizbullah, Syria, Iran or whoever else had come in to save Gaza. The entire Muslim world, including the most fanatical and apocalyptic-minded forces among them, passed up the chance for glory in a jihad against the Zionists destroying Gaza because they were afraid - 1.5 billion Muslims, 50-odd Muslim countries not counting Hizbullah, and Israel's military power deterred them all. Utterly. WE ARE so strong. We are so fearsome. Operation Cast Lead proved (as if it needed proving again) that we are the colossus of the Middle East. So the question is this: Why is it, when the rest of the 1.5 billion Muslims are afraid to touch us, that these Palestinians won't put down their guns and rockets? Out of 1.5 billion Muslims, all of whom surely hate us by now, why is it that the only ones actually fighting us are the 3.5 million Palestinians? Could it have something to do with the fact that of the 1.5 billion Muslims, the only ones being ruled over by Israel are those same 3.5 million Palestinians? While the Palestinians are by no means unique in hating Israel, could the two things about them that are unique - that they fight Israel, and that they're ruled over by Israel - be connected? I'd always believed they were, and I'd always believed that if we stopped ruling the Palestinians, they'd stop fighting us, but I lost this belief a number of months after we "disengaged" from Gaza because the Kassams kept falling on Sderot. I supported disengagement because I thought that once we got out of Gaza, the Hamas gunmen would stop shooting at us. I figured they would keep firing rockets at first, being drunk with victory and believing they could drive us out of the West Bank next and out of the rest of Israel afterward, but I also figured that after we pounded them very hard in return, they would soon realize that it wasn't worth it and Sderot would soon have peace and quiet again. But it didn't happen. We pounded them and pounded them, and they kept coming back with more and more rockets. We killed them 10 and 20 a day at times, and they just escalated - from Sderot to Ashkelon. So I figured these Hamasniks really are scorpions - you can't deter them, you can only kill them. Even if you end the occupation of Gaza, even if you let the people there finally live freely, without Israeli interference, the terrorists among them will keep trying to kill Israelis - even if you kill them back many times over, even if you kill Gazan civilians while you're at it. And as this cycle goes on, Hamas only gets more popular. SO WHAT do you do? I figured if you can't deter them, all you can do is fight a war of attrition for a few decades until the Muslims, hopefully, get tired of Islamism. I also gave up on the idea of unilaterally withdrawing from the interior of the West Bank because from there they really would fire rockets at Ben-Gurion Airport. If you can't deter them in Gaza, you can't deter them in Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah or Hebron, either. These Hamasniks are scorpions. All along I'd been reading here and there about how Gaza, since disengagement, was "under siege," how it had become the "world's largest prison" - but it did not register because I did not want anything to cloud my certainty, my satisfaction, that Israel had finally done the right thing, that it had begun lifting the occupation and Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whom I hate, were fighting us anyway so we were wholly justified in fighting them back even harder. All along I was reading about Gaza being under "blockade," about "malnutrition" and "humanitarian crisis," but I did not let it register in my mind. I was sure we were right and they were wrong and that was it. Until I'd say a few months ago, when all these passing mentions of "siege" and "prison" and "blockade" and "malnutrition" and "humanitarian crisis" just built up to a critical mass, and I looked at the situation, and admitted to myself that we'd never disengaged from Gaza at all. We'd pulled our soldiers and settlers out of Gaza, but we'd surrounded it and choked it off from the outside. We'd locked 1.5 million people into the most crowded place on earth and allowed in just enough food, medicine and fuel via the border crossings to prevent starvation and epidemic. With the support of the US, EU and Egypt, we had quarantined Gaza and were feeding it through a tube. SO WHEN Hamas offered to extend the cease-fire last month in return for a lifting of the siege, I thought we should have taken it. We should have tried what we never tried before in Gaza: disengagement. If it didn't work, if Hamas kept firing rockets - even after three years of Gaza living under siege and more than 1,200 Gazans getting killed by the IDF - we could could have reimposed the siege and started shooting again. If it did work, though, then Sderot, Ashkelon and all the other southern cities would have had peace and quiet. Gazans, for the first time, would have been able to build a seaport and an airport and travel and trade freely. Hamas, it's true, would have had a much easier time of building up its arsenal. Thus, Gaza would have joined the 50-odd Muslim countries, not counting Hizbullah, that have armies and the sovereign freedom to make them as strong as they want - even if, militarily, Gaza would be light years behind Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Hizbullah and the rest. Also, it would have joined all those Muslim countries in being free of Israeli rule. Like the others, a free Gaza would have still hated Israel. But like the others, I think it also would have been afraid to attack Israel. I think that if we lift the siege, deterrence can work in Gaza, even with Hamas. And if it works in Gaza, and we can reach a deal in the West Bank - which, I know, won't be easy at all - then I think we can end the occupation there, too, and the deterrent power of the IDF will keep Ben-Gurion Airport and the rest of the country safe. We are incredibly strong. We are stronger than the rest of our enemies put together. They are deathly afraid of us. This last war proved it as conclusively as it can be proved. If we stay out of their faces, they will stay out of ours. We've done it with 1.5 billion Muslims. There are only 3.5 million left, but first we've got to free them.