Composure is also strength
A state that protects its abducted civilians and soldiers, and is prepared to pay a great deal for information regarding their fate, as in the case of Ron Arad, for example, evinces nobility, but also weakness.
This country, which throughout its existence has lost thousands of soldiers in wars and mass terror attacks, loses its hold on itself in the face of the abduction of a number of soldiers or civilians. The exalted heritage of not abandoning the wounded on the battlefield makes this country crazy. Two individuals killed in an Israel Defense Forces screw-up in the area of Kerem Shalom have been almost entirely blotted from the public mind in light of the abduction of Gilad Shalit and the discovery on Wednesday of the body of Eliyahu Asheri. Whoever ordered the abduction of the soldier and the civilian knew very well that he was grabbing us by our Achilles heel.
The state released hundreds of prisoners in return for Elhanan Tennenbaum, and it has released security prisoners even in exchange for the bodies of IDF dead. Yitzhak Rabin once said that all of the armies of Arabia never managed to overwhelm us the way one mother by the name of Miriam Grof did. This pressure is what led to the infamous Jibril deal - the release of 4,000 prisoners, arch-murderers among them, in exchange for the return of eight Nahal soldiers who had been abducted in Lebanon.
In the main, the fortitude of the Israeli public is pretty high. It has proved itself during years of wars and mass terror attacks; and after the initial shock, life has gone on. We have had incidents of hijackings - Air France in Entebbe and Sabena that landed in Lod, in both of which the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit captured and killed the hijackers and freed the passengers. Moshe Dayan, as chief of staff and as defense minister, held that Israel, like the United States today, does not negotiate with abductors. In its day, this principle led to the massacre at the school in Ma'alot. The entire country wept, but with time, it regretted having adhered to this principle.
A state that protects its abducted civilians and soldiers, and is prepared to pay a great deal for information regarding their fate, as in the case of Ron Arad, for example, evinces nobility, but also weakness. What transpired after Shalit was abducted bordered on hysterical lunacy. The entire country is full of wiseacres - from retired officers and learned military commentators to hot-headed government ministers - whose fuses blew with questions like: How could it have happened in light of the specific warnings about kidnappings? And were there really warnings? And how come they didn't know about the tunnel? And so forth. The question is: Where were all these experts before it happened? Why didn't they sound a warning?
And along with all of these questions came advice and hysterical threats - a kidnapping for a kidnapping, kill Khaled Meshal, give an ultimatum to Damascus, which gives shelter and patronage to Meshal, abduct the Hamas prime minister, and more. Very early on Thursday morning, dozens of Hamas members were arrested in the West Bank - government ministers and members of parliament.
"They want prisoners released? We will release these prisoners in exchange for Shalit," said Ehud Olmert in an internal discussion.
A well-known columnist has described Israel as a confused country that lacks a plan and leadership. Likud MK Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded lifting the restrictions that have been imposed on the IDF so as to restore its deterrent power. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter has been quoted as having said to the government: Set a deadline for the abductors, after which the Gaza Strip will become hell. Too many threats were flying around in the air - from the physical elimination of the Hamas government to butchering the Gaza Strip and cutting off the water and electricity supply there.
The thing that we most wanted not to happen is happening: The noise of the tanks is again being heard in the Gaza Strip. The rolling operation is aimed at preventing the smuggling of Corporal Shalit to outside the Gaza Strip, and also to settle scores with those responsible for the endless barrage of Qassam rockets.
In the army's opinion, the heads of the Hamas know where Shalit is. And in conjunction with the military operation, diplomatic and intelligence efforts are also underway. If Shalit is indeed still in Gaza, the aim of the operations is to get him back alive and well, and without paying a ransom. A country cannot be the prisoner of kidnappers, lest it make abduction the terror organizations' next weapon.
The optimist at this time is entitled to believe that the abducted soldier will return safe and sound. We must take care that history does not drive the rolling operation into new realms of blood and fire. To paraphrase a well-known Ariel Sharon epigram: Composure is also strength.