This is no competition of false machismo. This is a fateful decision: Even if these two radical Islamic movements gain symbolic propaganda victories – it could free other enemies around the Middle East. The need to win this war is absolute. There can be no debate about it.
Hamas and Hizbullah have a lot in common. Neither recognizes Israel, both organizations are well entrenched in areas Israel evacuated unilaterally, both are led by charismatic leaders with the ability to stir up a crowd, and both heap scorn openly on both Israel's military prowess and Israelis ability to stand up under pressure. And both have kidnapped soldiers from sovereign Israeli territory and are holding them in territory they control.
If these leaders come out of this war with the upper hand, if they can rightly wave the flag of victory, Israel will be finished.
'Yes' and 'no'
We all believe Prime Minister Olmert, therefore, when he says "no": We won't come to terms with the kidnapping of soldiers, we will not accept daily Qassam and Katushya rocket attacks, we will not give in to bribery. When Olmert says "no," he means it.
But what is Olmert's "yes?" By itself, "no" is not a policy and not a path. After the "no" must come a "yes." There must be a perspective for the future. "No" only defines the limits, not what happens in those borders or outside them. We are very, very unclear with regard to "yes."
What do we want?
Is the goal to develop an ongoing war of attrition to bring down the Palestinian Authority and Lebanese government? This is possible, but not necessarily desirable.
Is the goal to bring down both terror organizations in order to cause them to plead for a ceasefire from a position of weakness? This would be desirable, but is not necessarily possible. Fierce attacks on terror groups don't always weaken them. Sometime it even strengthens them.
Is our goal to re-capture the Gaza Strip and the south Lebanon security zone? To return to the Nabatiya and Deheshiya refugee camps? Does anyone really miss them?
On a strategic level, things are even more complicated: Should we exert pressure on the Shiite population in Lebanon to pressure Beirut to pressure Damascus to pressure to pressure Hizbullah to pressure Hamas? Israel tried to set off similar chain reactions during the 1990s, with no success.
Against its will, the Olmert government finds itself fighting a two-fronted terror war, at a time when the government's popularity is crumbling and the public has little faith in it. Verbal swords will not improve its credibility, just like they will not improve Israel's ability to deter enemy attacks.
The more the gap widens between "we'll show you, this time we'll really teach you a lesson" and Israel's actions on the ground, the more Israel's soft underbelly will be exposed.
The choice is either to close the gap between declaration and action, or to stop bragging and boasting. We must speak quietly, say little, and tell the truth: Israel has a right to know exactly where this government is leading the country, before battle and death give the government very limited credibility.