Netanyahu's Vietnam

Puzzlement and damnation at Benjamin Netanyahu's hasty acceptance of ceasefire with Hamas over the latest hostilities.

Israel should have gone in for the kill, say his critics. Avigdor Liberman resigned his post as Defense Minister rather than be part of a government he alleges caved to terrorism.

He does have a point. At best, the exchanges, our pinpoint airstrikes against your wayward bombs, ended in a draw. Hamas says it won, citing Liberman's exit as proof. Netanyahu claims that Hamas was first to cry uncle. That's One. Two — Netanyahu also says he was throttled or sobered by information he has at hand that nobody else has.

Netanyahu also has a point. As prime minister, he is sure to have info for his eyes only. Then this — the big picture. What is there to gain? What is there to lose?

This much we know: Netanyahu is less of a warrior prime minister, and more of a worldly statesman.

That is quite a balancing act, which sometimes works for, and sometimes against Israel's best interests. But through him, Israel has made large gains internationally.

So, to his reasoning, is this really the time to "finish the job once and for all?" Consider — Netanyahu surely did — the years of seeding and cultivating friendships with Arab neighbors, like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. What would these neighbors say once the Body Count starts rising among their Arab brothers, even if they do not much care for Hamas?

They'd have no choice but to take sides. Their kin. After so much careful diplomacy, Israel loses big on that score.

Nikki Haley is still at the UN, that is a plus, but no UN Resolution would favor Israel, but the guess here is that nothing like that would stop Netanyahu. Because it is so routine. The UN is the UN. But China is China and India is India and in both those countries Netanyahu has forged important partnerships for Israel.

That could come undone — if we are still correctly on the path of Netanyahu's win-lose thinking.

He'd be worrying about Russia — Russia, directly, or through Iran, heating it up even more in Syria...and then there's the United States.

We'll just assume that Trump would stick with Netanyahu, up to a point, and that the media will bash Israel day after day. Also routine.

But the question persists — why can't a first-rate power, Israel, finish off a bunch of lowlife terrorists? Just go in and smash them to bits. Just give the order and it's done.

That's what you think. That's what I think. But we are not running a country.

We thought likewise in the United States. We defeated Germany. We defeated Japan — but against half a country, North Vietnam and its barefoot peasants, we can do no better than exchange shots? But this: the war was never against North Vietnam. The war was against the spread of communism.

The purpose was to contain and to pacify, not to destroy. That's what kept President Johnson from going all-out and "bomb them to smithereens." We had the tools.

Johnson chose to go in with one hand only — at a cost of 58,220 heroic American lives — because North Vietnam posed no direct threat to the United States. Communist China and Soviet Russia were the real enemies; North Vietnam merely one domino. That was crucial to Johnson's thinking, along with the notion that popular support would never side with a big country obliterating — carpet bombing — a collection of barefoot villagers. (As were the images.)

That can never be popular, and it wasn't. Even a war limited in scope, from our side, drew anti-war riots everywhere, particularly back here in the United States.

Those days of bitterness are fully covered in "The Days of the Bitter End."

That is Israel's dilemma as well, and it is a moral dilemma. Hamas and Palestinian Arabs everywhere know how to play to the world's heartstrings.

Their desire and their actions to wipe Israel off the map, by any means, is seldom if ever considered.

One day they will try their luck for the last time. They will push Israel to the brink and leave Israel no choice. Not yet, apparently.

Today, more than ever, wars are popularity contests. Whoever gives the best pictures wins the whole movie. To change metaphors...

Israel, like the United States, is not good at playing small ball. Give us a formidable opponent, and watch us go to town. Israel does more than all right when it's a fight against equals.

But is Hamas a worthy opponent? Between Netanyahu and his generals, this question surely comes up — shall we use the full force of our military to rout the thousands of Hamas terrorists who mingle among two million "innocent civilians?" We can do it; just give the word, stand back and marvel.

But those would be the pictures sent around the world, never mind that the "innocent civilians" voted for Hamas and cheer them on...and serve as their human shields.

So all things considered — does Hamas present a clear and present danger to the entire population of the Jewish State? In that case, it's a go.

But so far, taking the brunt of it all are the million and a half Israelis who reside along the border with Gaza. Are these "acceptable sacrifices?"

Is it fair for those Israelis to keep on suffering if the strategy is not to win, but to contain and pacify — which does appear to be Netanyahu's policy.

No, it isn't fair and one day, maybe tomorrow, Israel will have to decide in or out regarding Gaza. For the sake of the Gaza-bordering Israelis, any IDF action would be justified.

In fact, it is astonishing that the Israeli leadership, and general population, allowed the terror to go on, since 2007, as if THOSE Israelis were expendable. Back then, Ehud Olmert — no?

Retaliatory strikes from Day One should have been so severe as to teach Hamas a lesson it would never forget — and there'd be nothing like there is today.

Undoing the damage has been Israel's task since Ariel Sharon gave Gaza away in 2005.

Instead, Israel is stuck with Gaza, stuck with Hamas, and stuck between a rock and a hard place — small wars every few years, against one big push to finish off Hamas once and for all.

But all of that, choice two, goes with the entire world watching, and rooting for the "underdog," which the Palestinian Arabs play so well.

That is the quandary facing Netanyahu. Vietnam was a hornet's nest for Lyndon Johnson. Gaza remains a hornet's nest for Benjamin Netanyahu.

There are no easy answers from him to us, or from us to him. Even a Man of War must consider timing, casualties, blowback.

Rightly or wrongly — Netanyahu weighs Israel's place in the world, and a precarious place it is. Among the nations, Israel is still compelled to explain its very existence.

This is so unjust, and yet it is the fact.

Two things we know. One. Communism was a real threat at the time, but the Domino Theory petered out from exhaustion. Islamic terrorism is different.

Islamic terrorism never tires. Its frontline is Israel, its domino is Hamas (among the other Islamic terrorist groups) and whatever Israel does against it is for the benefit of an ungrateful world.

Two. Israeli political leaders must never...NEVER...do anything to harm the reputation of the IDF.

But, even if only to a degree, that is what happened, and for that, criticism against Netanyahu is justified. Israel's half-baked response to 500 Hamas rockets was embarrassing.

At the very least, a show of force to have the enemy trembling, and a display of military might to comfort the Israelis along the Gaza border.

All they ask for is quiet. Why is that so difficult?

Yet if anyone can explain how a full-fledged war, at this time, can be done without multiple loss of life and limb to the inestimable men and women of the IDF — let him speak up.

Body Bags coming back home, we don't need. Thank G-d it is only one man, not you or me, who has to decide when enough from Hamas is too much.

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About the Author

Jack Engelhard
Jack Engelhard's classic international bestselling novel Indecent Proposal, which later became a worldwide hit movie, has been republished to meet readers' demands. His other major works include Compulsive: A Novel, his award-winning post-Holocaust Montreal memoir Escape from Mount Moriah, plus Slot Attendant: A Novel About A Novelist.

Website: www.jackengelhard.com