Shalit Can Wait; It's Lesson Time First

Just when it becomes critical to draw a distinction between the street gangs and some kind of responsible leadership, Israel is barking up the wrong tree.

If there is no negotiating with "terror," why press Syria to press Khaled Meshal to press the kidnappers to give back Gilad Shalit? And if mediators are being sought from Russia, China, Turkey and Qatar, why say that one of the reasons for the invasion of Gaza rests on the desire to secure Shalit's release through force? These two questions have one answer: Hubris - the hubris of an army stung right under its nose by a street gang, which snatched "one of its own" and killed two soldiers.

This hubris does not allow the army or the government to make do with the diplomatic channels. Someone has to be made to pay big, to be taught a lesson such that they will never ever again think about grabbing a soldier. And if this doesn't help, at least they can be made to pay a heavy price in the name of neutralizing the Qassams, or because they voted Hamas.

True, a government cannot "remain indifferent" to displays of terror. But this does not have to stop one from thinking that perhaps the Israel Defense Forces really does not have the wherewithal to secure Shalit's release, and that to do so requires a wise government rather than a wild army - a government that can take a look at its surroundings and recognize that there is not a single country in the Middle East that does not live with a certain degree of torturous duality, a duality in which orderly governments, sometimes elected, live side-by-side with brutal terrorist organizations that want to bring them down.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Jordan and others maintain such an agenda. Their governments fight terror but know how to distinguish between those who bear arms and munitions and those who are ready to talk.

Iraq may not be an example anyone wants to imitate, but there, too, the United States knows not to underestimate the power of hubris, because the solution cannot be a military one. Israel is in a similar situation. But Israel made another fatal mistake by letting slip the opportunity to build alongside it a Palestinian regime that would at least bear the civilian burden, if not the military one. From the outset, it has treated every Palestinian Authority, no matter who has headed it, as tainted, as a terror organization in the guise of a government. Not for a moment did it ever occur to the Israeli government to treat seriously any Palestinian initiative, such as the latest one, the prisoners' document. "Irrelevant," said the government spokesmen.

Then the street gang that captured Shalit came along and explained to Israel what is "relevant." Hamas does not recognize Israel, cried the well-known chorus, so it is not a partner for dialogue. But look who is courting who and who is calling for protecting Shalit's life these days. Everyone's looking for someone to hold "responsible" - Hamas, Haniyeh, Meshal, Syria; but recognizing that apparently all of these potential responsible parties are truly less relevant has yet to be internalized. Because the field, especially in Gaza, is now controlled by 18 and 20-year-olds whose organizational affinity might be the result of wanting to be part of some respectable framework, but soon they won't even need that. They will be the next Hamas. Haniyeh was 25 years old when the first intifada, the nonviolent one, began; Abu Ubeida, the chief Qassam maker in Gaza, is 28 years old now. He is the new generation that is not impressed by tanks; nor are the people of the Islamic Army and the Nasser a Din Brigades. They are the ones who are compiling their national resumes now. They are waiting for the IDF in the alleys that they know so well to show not only Israel but also their own veteran, exhausted and blacklisted leadership - the old woman who can no longer crawl through tunnels, who is perceived as a collaborator and has forgotten what a national struggle is all about - that they have already started the next round of appointments.

Israel's partners now are in its prisons. And this is the paradox. Just when it becomes critical to draw a distinction between the street gangs and some kind of responsible leadership, Israel is barking up the wrong tree.