Jonathan Pollard, Gilad Shalit, and Israel

Israel can't afford to wait upon events.

In 1987, Jonathan Pollard, an NIS intelligence analyst, was convicted in a U.S. court for passing classified information to Israel and sentenced to life imprisonment. As Joseph Puder remarks in an article for FrontPage Magazine, Pollard received the same sentence as John Walker, Robert Hansson, and Aldrich Ames who sold “top U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union [which] claimed the lives of many U.S. agents.” The question of Pollard’s espionage is moot, since America had reneged on a Memorandum of Understanding ensuring that information pertaining to Israeli security would be transferred to Israel, a loyal and trusted ally. In a letter to Barack Obama, pleading for commutation of sentence, former assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb points out that “the average sentence for his offense is 2-4 years and today the maximum sentence is 10 years.”

In 2006, in clear violation of international law, twenty-year-old corporal Gilad Shalit was kidnapped on the Israeli side of the border by Hamas irregulars and has spent the last five years of his young life in captivity. In equal violation of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions, Hamas has refused to allow Red Cross visits or contact with the boy’s parents. Its attitude is summed up in a statement made by Abu Marzuk, an official in the Hamas Political Ministry: “The subject no longer interests us. We are not interested in his well-being at all, and we are not giving him any special guard since he is as good as a cat or less.”

But unlike Pollard and Shalit, Israel is comparatively free to act if it so chooses. With respect to the United States, it has the vast majority of the public, almost the entire Republican Party, and even some scattered Democrats on its side. It also has the option of gradually reducing its dependence on American aid. It possesses the expertise to engineer a more autonomous military platform—as my own country, Canada, did in the 1950s when it developed the Arrow. This was the most sophisticated fighter jet in the world at the time, before Canada ill-advisedly trashed the entire project following the political calculations of a blinkered prime minister favoring the American Bomarc missile and the Lockheed U-2. Israel, however, need not emulate the Canadian example of misplaced deference.

Common sense and fair play should have led to Pollard’s release twenty years ago and more. Pollard was far more a victim than a malefactor. But is Israel as helpless as it appears to be in seeing belated justice done? It enjoys, as we’ve noted, broad support in the American heartland and in Congress. It contributes significantly to American R & D civilian and military technology. It returns most of the foreign aid it has received to the U.S. in the form of military purchases, creating American jobs rather than differentially profiting its own economy. And it is America’s most reliable ally—former secretary of state Alexander Haig described Israel as “the largest U.S. aircraft carrier…in a region which is critical to vital U.S. interests.” Although Israel has lobbied for Pollard’s release and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has striven to bring this about, there surely exist many pressure points and leverage opportunities that have not been accessed. It is unconscionable that Pollard has been left to rot in an American jail without his benefactors mobilizing every potential resource at their disposal.

With regard to Hamas, the niceties of diplomatic protocol and the complexities that hamper political and/or military maneuvers were never an excuse to avoid concrete action. I submit that if Hamas were credibly threatened through back-channels with the thorough and systematic destruction of its infrastructure, Gilad Shalit would have been released long ago. Moreover, Israel continues to provide electricity, fuel, material goods and medical care to Hamas, without which Gaza would find itself on the verge of implosion; if Israel were to completely shut off the supply tap, the terrorists would be compelled to reconsider. But such policies should have been enacted before Shalit was abducted, as soon as it had become clear that disengagement did not lead to peace, as had been foolishly hoped, but to the relentless bombardment of Israel soil.

Naturally, Israel would face mounting international pressure and condemnation if it pursued such measures. The “international community” can always be counted on to make common cause with the antagonists of the Jewish state. Hamas knows this and plays the global card to Israel’s continuing detriment. Nevertheless, it is obvious that no matter how Israel may comport itself in any conceivable political or military situation, it will be blamed and denounced anyway, a lesson it has not yet appeared to have learned. It is time, as the Israeli colloquial expression goes, to “change the CD.” Given the ‘damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t’ context, it may as well act to its advantage.

Indeed, there was never any reason that Israel should victual and otherwise prop up a dedicated enemy pledged to the country’s annihilation. What other nation in its right collective mind would feed, support and strengthen a regime that kidnaps its soldiers, targets its civilian centers, and is Charter-bent on genocide. This is, frankly, utter insanity. And there was never any reason Israel should have accepted even one rocket exploding in its villages without unleashing, not a tit-for-tat reprisal which clearly solves nothing, but a devastating counterattack eliminating the major part of the problem once and for all.

In short, Israel is neither Jonathan Pollard not Gilad Shalit. There is no reason it should allow itself to be imprisoned by a hostile American administration that curtails its freedom of movement and imperils its very survival. And there is no reason it should allow itself to be kidnapped by Hamas which exploits its international credit to prevent the country from defending itself and from acting to put an end to a condition of ongoing paralysis. Certainly there are powerful constraints that impinge upon the country’s freedom of action. Even so, as the Bard observes, “there is a tide in the affairs of men…And we must take the current when it serves,/Or lose our ventures.” Although it may have faltered in its efforts to free Pollard and Shalit, Israel itself should not behave as if it were America’s convict or Hamas’ hostage.

Israel must recognize that a possible second term for Barack Obama may bring the nation to its knees, rendering it unable to act in its own defense on any of the multiple fronts on which it is engaged. Further, the reluctance to move swiftly and decisively against Hamas permits the terrorist enclave to build up its Iranian and Syrian supplied arsenal with ever more effective, long-range weaponry—as was the case with Hezbollah prior to the 2006 war when it was glaringly evident that the many thousands of missiles Israel watched massing on its northern frontier would eventually be used against it. Another day, another missile added to the stockpile. One recalls Aluf Benn, a columnist for Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, who, five days before Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on Israel, praised its leader Hassan Nasrallah “whose behavior is rational and reasonably predictable,” and affirmed the “stable balance of deterrence that was created on both sides of the border.” Such imbecility often seems to have gone viral.

There comes a time when the practice of ostensible political subtleties, along with a certain timid lethargy, is self-defeating. We saw this counter-productive “strategy” at work when the Israeli government failed to support Philippe Karsenty in his ultimately successful campaign to expose the Al-Durah hoax perpetrated by the Palestinians in concert with French TV-2 and the unscrupulous journalist Charles Enderlin. The argument against determined action is that with patience, clever diplomacy and the maintaining of a low profile, an inauspicious situation may change, just “go away” and be forgotten, or yield to a more positive turn of events. Of course, things change, though often not for the better. The Israelis were the darlings of the West after their stunning victory in the Six Day War. Today they are the world’s villains and scapegoats. Tomorrow, we are often told, it may be different once again and Israel, after it has made every disabling concession demanded of it, may once again be embraced by the international community. Or so the argument goes.

Apart from the fact that this is risibly unlikely, the question is not whether things change; it is whether things change in time, and whether things change beneficially rather than adversely. The situation is far graver, obviously, than sporadic rocket fire and incursions from Gaza—which is bad enough—or any of the isolated eruptions that are constantly occurring. Despite all the difficulties and obstacles it faces, Israel cannot afford to wait upon events. It cannot wait for things to change for the better, which they almost assuredly will not, or change for the worse, which they almost assuredly will. It must prepare for worst-case scenarios of the kind imagined by Giulio Meotti, author of A New Shoah, who writes that the end of the Jewish state may be only a pessimistic fantasy, but reminds us that “Israel’s enemies are working for a world that is clear to them…a world without Israel.” The carnage he describes is as nearly inconceivable as it is wholly possible.

The overriding fact is that with Hamas to the south, Hezbollah to the north, Iran to the East and the Obama administration to the west, with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations intent on hastening the debacle from the periphery, and with a leftist fifth column at its center persistently eroding its will to survive, the only “bunkered democracy” in the world is on the cusp. “The people outside the window,” writes Israeli laureate Yehuda Amichai in a moving poem from Travels, “are the legions/of Titus: they are storming Jerusalem/ this Sabbath night, the cafes and the cinemas.”

If it wishes to preserve the miracle of its existence, Israel cannot allow its foreign policy to be imprisoned by one political actor or kidnapped by another, in whatever form the enemy may declare itself across the entire spectrum of malevolence. The Israeli leadership has no choice but to proceed with courage and fixed purpose, untrammeled by considerations of protocol or repute. For there can be little doubt that if it wishes to see its centennial in 2048, Israel must be resolutely pre-emptive and pro-active. Now.