In a press conference last week, Nasrallah said cheerfully said that Israel has no idea whether its kidnapped troops are alive and contemptuously belittled the Israeli Mossad for claiming it has a “source” that does not exist.
But perhaps Nasrallah has a few good reasons to be satisfied: He proved that he can abduct soldiers and engage in tough talks with Israel on their return. He showed that Israel has no choice but to negotiate in line with his terms and ultimately accept his demands. Yet the most bothersome fact is that Nasrallah illustrated Israel’s weakness and openly presented it as state that should not be feared.
Indeed, Samir Kuntar, a murderer who does not deserve to live, will soon return to Lebanon, with Nasrallah thus delivering on his promise to his followers.
Once upon a time, when our founding fathers were in power, that same Mossad which Nasrallah now disparages would have eliminated him a long time ago. However, Israel today is not the Israel it used to be.
Hamas too realizes that it is dealing with current-day Israel. It fires rockets and mortar shells with no fear; it forced Israel to lift the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip; it holds on to abducted soldier Gilad Shalit and keeps fooling those negotiating on his release.
Despite its misery and inferiority, Hamas is talking to Israel as an equal. Its leaders threaten us, make demands, and present conditions. They conduct themselves as though they know Israel has no other choice except for negotiating in line with their rules. And they’re right. With Gilad Shalit’s guards able to enjoy imported Israeli ice cream on hot days, they really don’t have much to fear.
While Nasrallah’s annoying smiles and Abu-Zuhri’s cheeky hand gestures do not constitute an existential threat to Israel, in this part of the world image and mood carry supreme importance when it comes to national security. The impression that Israel is weak is disastrous, even if this is merely an impression. Without an image of strength and deterrent power, Israel will find it difficult to guarantee its security in this wild part of the world.
Those who grew up in Israel’s early years remember days of near hunger, unemployment, and housing distress. Ye the poor Israel was able to deliver tough blows against its enemies. A small military that was meagerly equipped, undisciplined, and forced to absorb thousands of recruits from all over the world was able to plan, dare, hit the enemy deep in its own territory, and scare it.
Especially notable were Ariel Sharon and his comrades in Unit 101 and in the paratroopers – just like fighters in other elite forces – who shaped a systematic and tough retaliation policy of killing the murderers and their masters at their homes in the village, camp, or headquarters.
Those fighters in the 1950s did not possess the weapons, equipment, and means available to the army today, yet they and their commanders – in the army and in government – possessed plenty of comprehension, creativity, courage, and determination that led to a long series of retaliation operations and other assaults on the enemy’s home front. The IDF was thus able to achieve its main mission: Frightening the murderers and their masters.
The Second Lebanon War is the best evidence of how important impressions are in the Middle East: Hizbullah’s fortifications, strongholds, and neighborhoods in Beirut were pulverized, yet it still celebrated a victory. The IDF, which has been working to draw conclusions from that war, must find a way to again scare the enemy. The fear will regain (at least partly so) some of Israel’s dignity and security.