Ah, how sweet it is to remember. Those were the days, May 1972, Operation Isotope. The elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit headed by Ehud Barak freed the hijacked Sabena airliner at Lod Airport. "Prime Minister Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu took part in the freeing of the hostages" and will speak at a conference marking the operation's 40th anniversary, to be held soon by the Israeli military historical society at Ramat Efal.

Somebody apparently thinks Netanyahu's heroism 40 years ago needs to be underscored, now that he's facing other isotopes. Barak, whose photograph in a white technician's uniform on the plane's wing helped him defeat Netanyahu in the 1999 elections, hasn't been invited to the event.

For every success notched up four decades ago, there's always a failure that happened just two decades ago. Here's a reminder by the Shin Bet security service last week.

"On March 17, 1992, at 2:45 P.M., a car bomb exploded in front of Israel's embassy in Buenos Aires. Twenty-nine people were killed in the attack; this included four Israelis and four local embassy employees. About 50 other Israelis and local residents were in the section not damaged in the explosion. A few minutes before the blast, security guards went outside to inspect the area and found nothing. During this period, Israeli intelligence officials did not have information about plans to attack Israeli or Jewish targets in Argentina, though it was known that there was a large Arab community in the area, and that it hosted anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian activity."

The Shin Bet, which is subordinate to the prime minister, found reason to bring up the intelligence failure that let Hezbollah avenge the assassination of its leader Abbas al-Musawi in an air attack. The Shin Bet is not to be suspected of trying to undermine Netanyahu - certainly not in the era of current director Yoram Cohen, who was introduced infelicitously at a Netanyahu family event as "Sara's appointment." The person who made this introduction, a confidant of the Netanyahu family, reinforced the perception that Sara Netanyahu heads the country's security services.

The fact that the Shin Bet reminded the public about Israeli and Jewish targets' vulnerability around the world, and about Israeli intelligence's dubious ability to curb Iranian reprisals at a time of IDF operations, is a coincidence. The timing of the Shin Bet reminder has nothing to do with the increased talk about a military strike against Iran, of course.

And speaking of coincidences, on the same day the Shin Bet issued its reminder, Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of U.S. Southern Command, testified in the Senate. He warned about Iranian and Hezbollah activity in Latin America, particularly in Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba. In that region there are 36 Shi'ite cultural centers directed by religious extremist Mohsen Rabbani, one of the culprits in a second attack in Buenos Aires - in 1994 against a Jewish cultural center.

Along with the situation overseas, there's the issue of Israel's home front. If the country absorbs just a tenth of the missiles and rockets fired at it, it will face thousands of warheads crashing all around. Netanyahu doesn't seriously plan to prepare Israel for war. He hasn't made an emergency announcement about investments in bomb shelters and missile-interception equipment. The Chinese call such a leader a paper tiger. That's a fitting appellation, but it belongs to the Gutenberg era; today, the term would be a virtual lion.

During his first term as prime minister, in September 1996, Netanyahu opened the Western Wall tunnel. The Palestinians responded violently; after 16 Israelis were killed, Netanyahu went crawling to Yasser Arafat and agreed to a deal in Hebron after succumbing to pressure from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Since then, Netanyahu has been cautious. He has drawn back in fear more than he has forged ahead. Facing a threat during the two crises centered around Saddam Hussein's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (Saddam was less impressed than Netanyahu by Menachem Begin's decision to attack the Iraqi nuclear reactor ), Netanyahu displayed alarm and entertained thoughts of extreme measures. (Not that the government would ever have backed them. )

Iran, like Iraq in Saddam's days, hasn't promised immunity to Jerusalem, but it's reasonable to assume that during a war the capital will be safer than Tel Aviv, particularly when considering which residents might have access to a government bunker. If Netanyahu is so cavalier about the danger of a siege on Israel's home front, he should put his money where his mouth is and move his family to Tel Aviv.

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