Moments of Calm in the Cuckoo's Nest

Let Hamas have the 'last word' and declare its victory in the mud and gun-oil of Gaza, while Israel will live, prosper and grow, as it always does during the breaks in the clouds of war.

Even the Hebrew word carefully chosen to describe the new situation, regi'ah (calm), attests to the clinical condition that both Israel and Hamas now find themselves in. Not "interim agreement" or "cease-fire" or "truce," as is customary between armies and states caught in run-of-the-mill conflicts, but calm, a term that brings to mind the cliched cinematic images of raging mental patients being brought into a hospital. Someone ran wild in the cuckoo's nest, was given a jolt of electricity or a tranquilizer, and is now blinking quietly in his padded cell.

As the efforts to tranquilize and soothe increased, they only seemed to expose more clearly the madness of the scuffling itself, in which one side shoots just because it can, and the other shoots just because it can't not shoot, and the suffering each side feels is dwarfed by the satisfaction of inflicting pain on the other. "Victory?" Neither side could even tell you what that would be.

Israel, in an approach that might be described as "security snobbism," has for years been trying to dissociate itself in distaste from the terrorist organizations and their (to us) lunatic logic. Inadvertently, however, Israel has already been swept into the same kind of mentality. Both Hamas and Israel (especially Israel) speak of "victory" not in diplomatic terms, but in macho terms: The winner is the one who kills more, or who kills last. No wonder that until the very last moment, the two sides were still engaged in a battle over "who will have the final word" - that is, who will manage to pound the other harder before they both collapse, exhausted: one without a state, the other without peace.

For many reasons, logical and empirical, the opponents of the calm are right, especially when you take into account the lessons of the disengagement from Gaza, the repression of Hezbollah's military build-up, and Israel's willful obliviousness to the movement of missiles along the Suez after the War of Attrition. Nevertheless, beyond the practical question of who (including Yuval Steinitz himself) would follow MK Yuval Steinitz and his cronies - who call for Israel to "enter Gaza," "strike a deadly blow" and "vanquish terrorism," when even they themselves are not sure what either the cost or the outcome would be - we must confess: Israel usually acts only when it has no choice, or when the situation has become grave indeed. What can we do? It is a weakness of sorts.

In fact, an all-out war of attrition is still being fought between Israel and its enemies. And in this war, Israel - because of its democratic, life-loving nature, its fear for the life of every person and soldier - almost always succumbs first. No aggressive mannerisms or talk of "creating deterrence" by "having the last word" can conceal this fact. But is this not actually proof of a certain sanity? You have to be genuinely fanatic and crazy - like Hamas, like Al-Qaida - not to feel the "attrition" of war, and perhaps this weakness of ours is nothing to be ashamed of, in the context of our overall national fortitude: Let Hamas have the "last word" and declare its victory in the mud and gun-oil of Gaza, while Israel will live, prosper and grow, as it always does during the breaks in the clouds of war.

The "weakness" and "indecisiveness" of our leadership is now being denounced (just as its "decisiveness" at the beginning of the Second Lebanon War was criticized), and the latest fashion is to focus the onslaught on Ehud Barak: to ask what has happened to his famous, hatchet-like resolve; to mock his "hesitancy," his "stuttering" and the "unclear messages" he now voices. But within the convoluted, unpredictable logic of the Middle East, this hesitancy and caution may be the kind of sanity now necessary, or possible, among those who still feel a responsibility for our fate. Maybe the man has learned from his mistakes, and from the mistakes of others. Although we should not get carried away - in the madhouse of the Middle East, after all, those who are sober and moderate in the morning may be the ones throwing fits in the evening - there is some grace in this momentary humility.

True, cold logic says one must go out and crush the enemy in good time. But logic, like a tango, takes two. And in the Middle East, it has been proven more than once that the most logical of decisions can lead to the bitterest of surprises.