Where ranting and raving are free
This is a country where columnists, talkbackers and the public weather vane have a much greater effect on decision makers than the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad.
As I read Haaretz's opinion pages on Tuesday morning, I found myself pausing to check, time and again, whether this was indeed Haaretz and not Makor Rishon, and that this was 2008 and not 1968.
At the top of the right-hand page, Yoel Marcus suggested that we kidnap "their people ... so high up on the totem pole that it shocks them out of their minds" and cause them to play "by our rules." On the left-hand side, Amir Oren called on Israel to "strike, without mercy, the entire chain of command of the groups that carry out abductions." I could hardly believe my eyes.
Even an old-time right-wing politician, for whom repeating "we told you so" is one of life's few remaining pleasures, rarely sees such ranting and raving every day, much less on the pages of Haaretz. One can only imagine what insults would have been heaped on Benjamin Netanyahu had he dared utter such suggestions. Such diatribes were part of the Via Dolorosa down which the government led the abducted soldiers' families. In an atmosphere like this, had I been a minister, I too wouldn't have been able to reject the deal because of the families' grief.
These diatribes are expected to intensify once the prisoner-exchange deal with Hezbollah is completed. The public weather vane will change direction at the sight of the celebrations that Hassan Nasrallah, who is intimately familiar with fickle Israeli public opinion, will hold in Beirut. Politicians like me, who could not withstand the pressure, and the journalists who conducted the campaign, will compete with each other with declarations of "next time we'll show them," and they will all sound exactly as they did last time, when we released hundreds of prisoners for three bodies and a drug dealer. Israelis will feel like "suckers" and that is what they hate most.
These rantings recall those we used to hear on Cairo's Voice of Thunder radio station, which would broadcast propaganda in Hebrew. Ultimately, as our enemies well know, these exercises are pointless. So all the abduction planners can calm down. No Israeli chief of staff in 2008 would dare to authorize the counter-kidnapping of senior Hezbollah or Hamas figures like the abduction of Sheikh Obeid and Mustafa Dirani or the Syrian officers in 1972 (by the special reconnaissance unit headed by Yoni Netanyahu).
As every terrorist knows, Israel offers him not only the opportunity to obtain an academic degree in prison (as Samir Kuntar will be able to tell the guys in Beirut), but a well-organized alignment, partly financed by overseas sources, which fights against Israel's right to fight terror. These people are acting to limit the war on terror to means that are suitable, at best, for the police's fight against crime. And they are doing so with the help of the Israeli justice system.
This is a country in which a minister threatens to attack Iran (and catapults world oil prices) and the prime minister promises, on going to war, to "bring the boys home" (when he should have known that this was almost hopeless). This is a country whose defense and foreign ministers announce that the prime minister must resign (but aren't dreaming of leaving his cabinet), and a billion-shekel tax reform is declared and revoked in one week - just like that.
In a country where nobody takes anything seriously anymore - nobody would blame a columnist who suggests we abduct or kill terrorist leaders if soldiers or Palestinian civilians were killed in such an operation. Even though this is a country where columnists, talkbackers and the public weather vane have a much greater effect on decision makers than, say, the professionals in the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad.
The writer is a Likud Knesset member.