Israeli governments have long recognized the need to tread carefully in pursuit of national security.
Greater powers have a limited tolerance for Israel daring to approach what they do in defense of their own interests.
Part of the balance is the considerable power of the Israeli military that can threaten any state that would overstep vaguely defined lines.
The latest examples of Israeli balance between its security and others' tolerance have been emerging as Israeli forces seek the three kidnapped young civilians, and do what they can to weaken Hamas and end the alliance created with it by Abbas' government..
Official American spokespersons have announced their inquiry into the deaths of two Palestinians who died while Israel was pursuing its goals.
Cynics may ask how many international investigations resulted from the infinitely greater "collateral damage" linked to US military operations from Korea onward.
The ruling body of the Presbyterian Church has declared a disinvestment in companies selling products to Israel concerned with its activities in the West Bank. Its spokespeople have tried to avoid accusations of anti-Semitism brought about by their anti-Jewish posture with something akin to "some of our best friends are Jewish
No surprise that some anti-Israel Jewish activists were competing with pro-Israel Jews in lobbying the Presbyterians. Jews have been in anti-Jewish camps at least since those of the Middle Ages who told Church personnel about passages in the Talmud considered to be anti-Christian.
If the Presbyterians were really interested in equal opportunity for national defense and condemnation of excessive violence, they would also disinvest in companies that contributed to American military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. That would mean not only the firms making the stuff that goes bang and the equipment that delivers it to targets, but also those selling hamburgers, fries, drinks, and toothpaste that troops buy in their PXs.
Israel seeks balance not only with the great powers but also with Palestinians. Those of us outside the security services do not know precisely how important is the cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian professionals, but we hear that it is helpful. Israel expects criticism from Palestinian politicians as serving their own needs, and does not express great surprise when some Palestinian security personnel turn up among those who have attacked Israelis. This is, after all, the Middle East and not the Middle West.
Likewise there is cooperation and criticism from Egyptians and Jordanians, and some degree of even more blurred cooperation with Arab and Muslim countries that do not have formal relations with Israel.
Beyond this is the government's need to keep things in balance between coalition partners. On occasion, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett have been at one another's throats, and Tsipi Livni has been outside the apparent consensus on negotiations with the Palestinians, sometimes allied with Lapid and members of his party. Within the government are those who would expend settlements and annex some or all of the West Bank, and those who would dry up the settlements with financial constraints in the hope of a two-state solution.
There is also pressure from Israel's opposition parties, civil rights and pro-peace organizations, and its judiciary, which has imposed limits on the government in response to formal complaints.
Currently most seem to be on the same side with respect to finding the missing boys. Fewer agree about the punishment of Hamas. Israelis should wonder if the degree of unity achieved can last against outsiders' escalating comments about "overreaction."
How do Israeli officials seek to maintain balance among these pressures?
- Accept the inevitability of dispute, and antagonism of those who also express support.
- Make do with less actual security than the goals pronounced by its leaders.
- Respond with moderation, if at all, to occasional rockets from Gaza that--at the very least--add to the distress of people living in the area from Ashdod and Beer Sheva south toward Gaza.
- Act aggressively when pressed beyond limits not clearly defined.
- Continue action against security threats until satisfied by accomplishments, or deterred by opposition from international or domestic sources.
A recent tragedy on the Golan Heights, a rocket sent from one of the forces operating in Syria that killed a young Israeli Arab and severely wounded his father, produced returned fire from the IDF that might have killed some Syrian soldiers or rebels. The chaos in Syria appears beyond anything that Israel is inclined to enter with any force in order to assure absolute security for its citizens.
There is no certainty for Israelis or others anxious to know when Israel will act, what it will do in response to a particular provocation, or when it will stop.
Currently the points for decision that appear likely are whenever the three kidnapped boys or their bodies are found, and the onset of Ramadan. Officials have spoken about appropriate relaxation of restrictions on Palestinian movement during the month-long holiday of daily fasting, evening feasts, and travel for prayer and family visits. If the boys are not found by then, or if violent opposition to Israeli actions increase, it will be yet another occasion to see how Israel's government balances competing pressures from inside and outside.
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