Tactical weakness, strategic strength

Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic’s correspondent in Israel, gets at why the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier has provoked such a strong reaction, including the arrests of dozens of Hamas cabinet ministers and legislators:

Though the old socialist Israel is barely a memory, in times of crisis we again become collectivized.

Nothing unites Israelis in outrage more than the seizure of hostages. Next week, on July 4, Israel will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Entebbe operation that freed over a hundred Israeli hostages, and little has changed since then in the national ethos of rescue. The last Zionist ideal still shared by most Israelis is the determination to fight back. An Israeli soldier held hostage is a taunt against the Zionist promise of self-defense, an unbearable reminder of Jewish helplessness.

Our obsession with hostages is a tactical weakness but a strategic strength. It allows terrorists a stunning psychological advantage: With a single random kidnapping, they hold an entire society emotionally hostage. Strategically, though, hostage-taking only strengthens Israeli resolve.

And Israel is a small enough country that people tend to take these things personally.

Update: S.O. Muffin comments:

Well, let me explain something from a perspective of somebody that, with neither great pride nor great shame, served two-and-a-half wars (the half being the War of Attrition on the Suez Canal) in an IDF combat fatigues. Israeli government and IDF are guilty of many sins and I have never been bashful on HP in pointing this out. But IDF is a real people’s army, manned (and wommaned) by citizens (conscripts and reservists) and essentially acting by consent of the people. The whole ethos is that the grunt on the ground is not an expandable chit in a high-stakes poker game. That you and your mates go into harm way, but you expect your army to do what it takes to rescue you in hour of need. As one of Israel’s top tank commanders, Shmuel Gonen, once said, “I’ll willingly sacrifice hundred soldiers to rescue a single wounded soldier” (and added, “but I will not harm a single fingernail of one soldier to salvage a corpse”). This might be poor tactics but it is the strategy that made IDF into a such an effective combat force. And UK and US military and political echelons never shared this ethos. Not on the Somme, not in Danang or Mogadishu and not in Iraq.

This has nothing to do with the Holocaust. And nothing to do with rights and wrongs of Operation Summer Rains. But you folks have to grasp this once you wish to understand the extent IDF is willing to go to save a single captive soldier.