For years the Israeli public and its leadership have been arguing over the misleading nature of power and weakness. A quasi mathematical tool can be proposed here to quantify the extent of Israel's future power and weakness, and in so doing provide our decision makers with the appropriate tools.
It is a paradox: What is perceived as empowering in the Middle East weakens Israel's image in the West, particularly in Europe; and what is perceived in the Middle East as weakness, is perceived as empowering in world opinion.
The strong are admired in the Middle East, whether it is Ahmadinejad, Saddam, or on the other end of the scale, Ariel Sharon who was perceived as belligerent. The weak are abhorred in the Middle East, yet in the West weakness is considered an advantage.
The more Israel clambers for regional power, the more its image suffers in the global arena, and vise versa. Both moves are dynamic and therefore reversible. A movement in both can occur in two directions.
Holding on to the Territories is perceived in Israel as strength, but is detrimental globally. Demonstrating power in Gaza is perceived in the region as a powerful deterrent, but is widely criticized worldwide. The images of Lebanese casualties were perceived as powerful and deterrent acts in the Middle East, but sparked harsh criticism globally.
The disengagement from Gaza weakened Israel's deterrent power but was embraced warmly by the rest of the world. The missiles fired at Israel by Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War sparked a wave of global sympathy, but encouraged the Palestinians and the Lebanese to launch rocket fire towards Israel as well.
This rule also applies to the Palestinians: as long as they were perceived as weak, world opinion was in their favor; as soon as Hamas was depicted as having its own army and power, world opinion forgot them.
Any Israeli move must from now on carefully weigh the paradox of four options:
The worst is of course a situation whereby Israel would be perceived as weak both regionally and internationally, as was the case at end of the second Lebanon war. Hizbullah celebrated its victory in parallel to the harsh criticism world opinion leveled at Israel.
Regional power more important
Of the next two options the preferred one is the one that provides regional power rather than favorable world opinion. Experience shows that demonstration of power is more durable in the Middle East's collective consciousness. Damages to world opinion can be rectified more quickly.
Naturally, the best option is regional belligerence, while at the same time maintaining world sympathy towards Israel as in the Six Day War. This is somewhat difficult to achieve today but we can strive for such a situation.
Israeli leadership must embark on military belligerent action by reason of an existential threat to its survival, a condition that existed during the initial phases of the second Lebanon war. To achieve this, Israel must utilize international institutions which it usually holds in contempt, and it would do well to establish a well-oiled public relations network that could be activated on short notice.
A decisive victory against what is perceived as an existential threat would be embraced internationally and serve as a regional deterrent force. It's time for some Israeli achievements that have been lacking for the last 20 years.