A Confrontation That Ended in a Bad Stalemate for Israel

YERUSHALAYIM -

The name Luciano Portolano doesn’t mean anything to the citizens of Israel. But he was the big hero of Wednesday’s incident on the northern border.

Portolano, or by his full name and rank, Commander of UNIFIL in Lebanon, the Italian general was the one who ran Wednesday from one side to the other, mediated, proposed, reassured — until, by the end of the day, he had extracted from the two sides an exchange of messages that, in effect, amounted to a ceasefire agreement.

In essence, the unpublished comminque read: “The matter is closed.” We have achieved our ends.

Israel was blamed last week for attacking senior Hizbullah and Iranian operatives during a patrol in the Syrian Golan. On Wednesday, after several days of tension and massive military buildup, reopened bomb shelters and protected rooms, Hizbullah carried out its retaliation operation in Har Dov. It was a well-organized, carefully timed assault. It was against soldiers, not civilians; at Har Dov, which they claim as Lebanese territory, and not on the border. It was an action that they can present as full revenge and a victory for their cause.

From their point of view, the story is over.

But the state of Israel did not leavewith any sense of satisfaction after it agreed to a “balance,” an evening out of the score, that was dictated by a terrorist organization, during its worst days. Unsurprisingly, it was Hizbullah that was first to send the message to Israel that it considered the incident over.

Luciano Portolano rushed with those tidings to the Israelis, who did not know how to take the “message.” On the one hand, Israel was not interested in an escalation to a war of attrition leading to broader conflict either. But, in Yerushalayim, they understand the situation well. Israel essentially submitted to the dictates of Hizbullah and Iran.

Then began the deliberations that continued into the night, and at the end reached the starting point. Israel has accepted the proposed standoff and thereby gains quiet in the short term — until the next incident that will inevitably come, although when it will come is not known.

It will come in part due to Israel’s submission to the other side’s terms in this round. The Israeli dilemma was either to opt for a return to calm, even as the other side would interpret this as weakness, or choose a tougher response. Israel took the easier way out. Easier for now, but possibly harder, possibly, Rachmana litzlan, more dangerous, for the future.

The first hint that Israel would not “go all the way” came from a senior source at the beginning of the week, who said that “if the revenge is taken on IDF soldiers, Yerushalayim would not start a war over it.”

That is exactly what happened. Hizbullah heard those words and chose the best option for itself, taking vengeance without paying a high price.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that “the one who stands behind the attack will pay the price.”

That was at 1:00 p.m. But by 4:00 p.m., the very opposite message went out. Israel caved in. There is no other explanation for what happened. It was not Israel that determined the course of events. Israel was dictated to. The day will come when it will have to be examined whether the unwritten agreement did not achieve the opposite of what Israel sought.