Eight days into the search, Israeli troops have still apparently found no trace of the three teenagers kidnapped last week by Hamas terrorists. Though the army continues to claim that it is tightening the noose around the kidnappers, as the country welcomed the Sabbath, there was no sign that the government’s faith that the victims could be still be rescued would be vindicated in the coming days. Instead, prayers for the safe recovery of the boys are being drowned out in the court of international public opinion by complaints from Palestinians that Israel’s efforts to ferret out the terrorists are an overreaction or that it is inflicting “collective punishment” on innocents even if those complaining about disproportionate use of force are also the same people who have been promoting a social media campaign supporting the kidnapping and mocking its victims. The purpose of Israel’s West Bank offensive is to find the boys and to take down Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure that made the kidnapping possible. But the problem the country faces is that if another few days go by without results, international pressure to stand down and to even release some of the Hamas personnel that have been arrested in recent days will begin to grow.
Those who are lighting an extra three candles tonight for the three boys are holding onto hope that they will soon be found alive, the sobering fact is that the Israel Defense Forces have never yet rescued a Hamas kidnapping victim alive. The prayers of decent people around the world are focused on the desire to see the three boys being the first such victims returned home without Israel being forced to pay a ransom in the form of released killers. But the problem facing Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening is what he will do if by this time next week, the IDF is no closer to bringing this episode to a successful conclusion as it is today. The depressing truth is that in the absence of Israel finding either the victims or their captors, the desire of the Obama administration and its European allies to return the discussion about their recognition of the Fatah-Hamas Palestinian coalition and decision to keep funding that terrorist-backed government back to where it was before the kidnapping will become all too clear.
But before that happens, it should be understand that nothing that Israel has done should be considered an overreaction or a disproportionate use of force. Regardless of its ultimate disposition, as the current sovereign power in the West Bank, Israel has the obligation to both defend its citizens and maintain order. That includes the responsibility to root out terrorists and to rescue anyone who has been captured by them. If that means turning much of the West Bank upside down that will certainly inconvenience a great many Palestinians. But what is disproportionate is for the same people who are cheering the kidnapping with three-fingered salutes and promoting the crime as an act of heroism on social media to carp about Israeli troops searching for the boys. If Palestinians have taken to the streets to protest IDF movements, it is because they wish to hinder the search. So long as they regard any cooperation with the search for the boys as an act of treason and obstruction of their rescue as patriotism, it is difficult to see much hope for peace.
In the meantime, Netanyahu must decide whether the army’s efforts will at some point in the near future reach a point of diminishing returns if none of the three are found. While he will have the support of his nation behind continued efforts whether successful or not, the same cannot be said of his American allies, let alone the Europeans. All this means that sooner rather than later Netanyahu will have to choose whether to continue the counter-attack on Hamas terrorists. While the Americans would like nothing better to pretend none of this happened and that it has nothing to do with the peace process, this incident illustrates the futility of negotiations that treat terrorists and their collaborators as if they were peace partners. The U.S. would like to treat the kidnapping as a lamentable distraction from the business of Middle East peace. But the more Israelis are confronted with the callous three-fingered salutes of the Palestinians, the less likely they will be to ever listen to the siren song of the peace processers again.