We may find some limits in connection with two Israeli young men who have gone missing in recent months. Both have been described as mentally impaired or mentally disturbed, and both made their way to Gaza.
One is an Ethiopian, and one a Bedouin.
An IDF spotter posted in front of her screens saw the Ethiopian approach the barrier and sent soldiers to warn him, but he persisted in crossing via a break in the barrier caused by last year's tank maneuvers.
The Bedouin is said by family members to have wandered into and out of Gaza several times through uncontrolled areas of the Sinai.
The Ethiopian became the focus of a media extravaganza brought about by family members charging that the Prime Minister had not shown sufficient concern for obtaining his return. Politicians have sought to link his case to the demonstrations of Ethiopians claiming discrimination. The Prime Minister has apologized for remarks said to be insensitive, made by an aide with responsibility for missing Israelis who had been communicating with the family. He had urged them to avoid making a public issue. Now the Prime Minister has met with the family.
Officials are saying that Israel is concerned about the humanitarian issue associated with the two missing men, even if it does not feel the same responsibility as in the case of soldiers who were sent on missions of national defense, or the bodies of soldiers killed while on duty.
Gaza officials are speaking about holding Israelis, and denying that they are holding Israelis. They admit to holding bodies or body parts of Israeli soldiers slain in last year's military operation, but are saying they will not return them until Israel releases all the prisoners freed as part of the release of Gilad Shalit in 2011, and then recaptured when they violated conditions of their release.
Those familiar with the campaigns in behalf of Gilad Shalit and others should expect a campaign to continue.
Shalit came home in exchange for 1,027 security prisoners.
A campaigns focused on bringing home Eldad Regev, and Ehud Goldwasser, attacked on the Lebanese border in an incident that sparked the Second Lebanon War of 2006. Intelligence assessments were that the men had been killed in the attack or died soon after, but their deaths were not confirmed until the Lebanese released their bodies in exchange for a prominent terrorist and several Lebanese soldiers.
Elhanan Tannenbaum was a former ranking intelligence operative who went bad in financial dealings, and was captured in 2000 while traveling to Dubai, seemingly to purchase drugs for resale, and transferred by his captors to Lebanon.. Presumably on account of the national secrets he could have revealed, Israel obtained his release in 2004, along with the bodies of three soldiers killed along the border. In exchange, Israel released 435 prisoners, including prominent figures Israel had seized. That had been done, it is said, in order to use them as bargaining chips to obtain information about Ron Arad, who was missing since he parachuted from a plane hit by ground fire in 1986. There was also a long standing campaign to obtain information about a group of soldiers missing in a battle close to the beginning of the Lebanese war in 1982.
Several of the prisoner releases came along with intense opposition campaigns, featuring family members killed by individuals about to be released. There have also been delays caused by government officials refusing to release certain individuals demanded by those holding Israelis. None of the exchanges came quickly, without much discussion among Israeli officials and most likely among the adversaries, and prolonged bargaining.
The campaign for Israelis who entered Gaza has allowed opposition politicians to attack the Prime Minister for having an aide whose comments to the Ethiopian's family (recorded by one of those ever present smartphones) could be described as insufficiently sensitive, for the Prime Minister's failure to respond personally to the father's letter asking for information, and to otherwise involve himself personally.
Racism is also an issue when Ethiopians are involved. According to the Chair of Meretz, MK Zehava Gal-On:
"I watched with shame and with an aching heart to the conversation between the Prime Minister's representative and the Mengistu family. . . . the Prime Minister's aide threatened in Netanyahu's name, the Ethiopian-Israeli family of the missing man, and added cruelly to their pain and enormous fear that they have been experiencing for the past ten months . . . all for the purpose that they don't criticize the prime minister and heaven forbid blacken his holy name. . . .No one should dare to tell us that this is not connected to skin color,"
Tsipi Livni is closer to the center of the political spectrum than Gal-Or, and is more modest in saying that the Prime Minister owes the family an explanation of what it is possible to do in terms of complexities in dealing with Hamas. However, she would distinguish between the case of civilians who went to Gaza on their own initiative, and soldiers sent into a situation of danger.
So far there is no comparable campaign in behalf of the Bedouin.
Israel displays several features of a nanny state that can be forceful in protecting its people.
Israelis--or at least the Jews among us--expect their state to assure housing, medical care, and basic foodstuffs at reasonable cost.
Sport teams travel abroad with security guards, as do tour groups going to places likely to be troublesome.
It's not possible to define clearly what Israel would do if Israelis or Jews were threatened or harmed.
Officials have cancelled the departure of group tours organized by travel agents to Muslim countries in response to intelligence reports. The causus belli of the first Lebanese war was the shooting of Israel's ambassador to Great Britain, and that of the second Lebanese war was the attack on Israeli troops patrolling on the Israeli side of the border. Assassins were sent to deal with those who killed Israeli members of the 1972 Olympic team in Munich. Israel initially limited itself to sending a medical team and plane to return home those surviving an attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. Security personnel are said to have liquidated those involved in the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, but not those involved in the attack on the Israeli Embassy. However, it is impossible to dismiss or be sure about connections between one or another event, and allegations about Israeli assassinations of key personnel.
Security forces don't report to the public, but Israel appears to be a nanny state that occasionally bites. It has also paid high prices in terms of prisoner exchanges for the return of Israeli captives or the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed while on duty.
Whether it will pay for the release of civilians, perhaps simple minded, who went into enemy territory at their own volition is an open question, likely to be with us for some time.