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If the expression "a bad feeling" were a quarry, and if all the words related to "hope," "embrace" or "feel" could somehow be turned into capital, Israel could have this week become the richest and strongest country in the world. Aside from all kinds of essential words that described the location of journalists and the connection of interview subjects to the prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, sentences such as "accompanied by a bad feeling" and "we all embrace the families" once again filled our existence. Above all, that absurd expression, which has turned into a kind of national motto, is hovering over us once again: "I want to hope." It's an expression adopted by military and political leaders, of all people - those from whom we expect some kind of concrete and rational plan.

"We wanted to hope" that the captives would somehow come back alive, despite the intelligence information; the chief of staff "wanted to hope" that the Israel Defense Forces would smash Hezbollah in three days - if not at the beginning of the war, then at least by its conclusion; "we wanted to hope" that Syrian President Bashar Assad would agree to shake Ehud Olmert's hand and would forget about the Golan; "we wanted to hope" that Samir Kuntar and his friends would be raised on the values of Zionism and the good deeds they experienced during their decades of imprisonment, that Hezbollah would stop arming itself, or that Iran would be impressed by our threats and destroy its nuclear installations on its own. That's how it is when one "wants to hope." The sky's the limit.

In that sense, the "tough week" of the prisoner exchange deal was nothing new. We only emphasized to ourselves, and to an astonished world, the path that Israel as a country has chosen to follow for so many years, the path of magical thinking.

A path that, with a kind of joy-in-despair, has abandoned rational thought and primarily the consideration of long-term national interests and instead devotes itself, and does so with great pride, to "feelings" and desires: anger, revenge, pity, hopes, even if they that are cloaked, after the fact, in lofty words such as "values" and "sensitivities" and "respect for human life."

Although the prisoner exchange this week was more rational and reasonable than many of its predecessors, it still recalled a certain context. Almost every major step taken by Israel in the past decade - from a naive belief in Yasser Arafat to the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, to the overreaction to the intifadas, and up to the disengagement from Gaza and the Second Lebanon War - demonstrated not only an absence of logical thinking, but even a defiance of cold, rational considerations.

This could have been dubbed "the victory of hope" had there at least been some kind of victory here; but, in its absence, we have remained only with "wanting to hope": a kind of mystical faith that desire alone, plus "positive energies," would change reality by taking shortcuts through it and bypassing its laws.

In that sense, Israel may be ahead of its time: It long ago revealed "the secret," like the name of one of the New Age best sellers, which says that if we close our eyes tight and "want to hope," the thing will happen. If we only "embrace the families," make a decisive speech or "get our picture taken with Assad," the reality will change by itself, without a need to do anything about it (such as preparing the army for war, or waging a wise diplomatic offensive or making rational concessions in genuine negotiations). But unfortunately, Israel is living in a region that is entirely "Old Age": It is confronting the negative energies of enemies whose basic positions have not changed a millimeter for decades, and who adhere to the most basic utilitarian rationale, as far as they are concerned.

And, thus, when a leader like Hassan Nasrallah succeeds in jerking us around and toying with us and our "feelings" as though we were puppets on a string, we have to ask ourselves: Are we really facing an unbelievably demonic genius, or has the guy simply invaded the playing field that we have abandoned - the arena of practical and clever thinking, which once was unique to us in this region?

With the help of the media, which pursue emotions and weeping and embraces, in which the crocodile tears of promos for the Israeli versions of "Survivor" and "The Biggest Loser" mingle with the sorrow of those deceived by Hezbollah, the media have forgotten the meaning of "the real story," just as the army has long since forgotten the meaning of victory.

Because while we are wallowing in wishes, prayers, collective weeping and pseudo-familial embraces, the bad news is that our neighbors have simply discovered our "secret." While we are still focusing on emotions, they have adopted thinking.