The question of doing it or not is relevant to the most recent action of the IDF.
The destruction of a six story apartment house in a neighborhood of Damascus caused the death of Samir Kuntar, and maybe a few other nasties.
Kuntar was prominent in a 1979 terrorist attack on Nahariya that killed several members of a family, including a 4 year old girl. He was sentenced to multiple life sentences, but released in 2008 in a controversial deal in exchange for the bodies of two soldiers whose killing had begun the Second Lebanon War of 2006. Intelligence estimates were that the soldiers had been killed, but negotiations had proceeded under an escalating public relations campaign that Israel must pay a great price for the return of what might be captured soldiers.
Kuntar was a complex figure. He was a Druze, which meant that he was on the fringes of Lebanese and Syrian society and politics, and outside the usual conception of Palestine. He was welcome back by Hezbollah in Lebanon as a hero, and asserted that he would continue to fight for the freedom of Palestine. Somewhere along the line he moved to Syria, worked in the midst of the chaos there to create a band of fighters to threaten Israel on the Golan Heights. He was somewhere in the realm of Hezbollah, but perhaps closer to the Iranians than the Lebanese. At one point he converted to Shiite Islam, which complicated his status among the Druze, a closed community, where the norm is no one enters and no one leaves.
Israeli officials, without admitting that the IDF did it, are praising and justifying the action that killed him.
The picture is confounded by at least two Muslim sources from the Syrian chaos claiming that they were the ones to have killed Kuntar.
Believe what you will in this morass, where disinformation is the language.
His release in 2008, for what turned out to be dead bodies, also created a sentiment that Israel would not again pay a price in the release of killers for the bodies of soldiers. However, we are already seeing the onset of a campaign by the family of a soldier who was declared a fatal casualty of the last Gaza operation, "whose place of burial is not known." The family wants him declared a missing soldier whose return should be negotiated with Hamas.
Hamas is saying that any information will have to be purchased with the release of prisoners held by Israel.
This is against the background of more than a thousand prisoners, many of them condemned murderers, released in exchange for the live Gilad Shalit.
That, too, is widely viewed as a price too high. Many of those released returned to violence, killed or re-captured. Now various Palestinian factions are demanding their re-release.
It was apparently a Palestinian faction in the south of Lebanon that responded to Kuntar's killing with three rockets fired toward Israel, not all of which left Lebanese air space. Those that reached Israel landed in empty fields, without damage or casualties. The IDF responded with an artillery barrage, which also is reported to have caused no casualties.
Hassan Nasrallah spoke from his bunker, via a large television screen, to a huge crowd in Beirut on the occasion of Kuntar's funeral, and promised an appropriate response to the killing of Kuntar.
Some of the northern communities unlocked their public bomb shelters, but IDF personnel said that they do not expect any further action at this time.
It's all part of the noise that never dims. Some may call it tit for tat, or a routine dance by forces wanting to express their limits of tolerance, but without contributing to an escalation that would be costly and unproductive for all sides.
Israelis expect some kind of response from Hezbollah. Somewhere in Nasrallah's cost-benefit calculations, however, should be the balance of casualties and damage in the Second Lebanon War of 2006. The Israeli death total was 164, while that of Lebanese was estimated at 1,900. A number of facilities were destroyed or damaged in northern Israel, while the destruction was much heavier in Lebanon, especially the neighborhoods of Beirut where Hezbollah activists are concentrated.
Does any of this bring us closer to peace? Or further along the road to a major war?
We should have forgotten long ago aspirations for peace.
Escalation is possible, but not likely, given the busyness of Hezbollah and just about everyone else in Syria.
Economics is the key to all these questions. Not primarily the money at stake, although sometimes that plays a minor role, but the larger issue of likely costs and benefits. Human life and the prospects of significant property damage are prime considerations.
Cost and benefit calculations also occur in international politics.
Currently the prime example concerns Turkey. Both Israelis and Turks are calculating how much they are likely to gain and lose from a thaw in what has been a chilly relationship. Actually it's a break in relations, with no ambassadors in place, but with considerable trade continuing.
For Israel: How explicit should we apologize for killing passengers who were violent in opposing the landing of soldiers on a ship trying to break the Gaza blockade? How much money should we put in a fund for the families? And to what extent, if at all, should we relax the blockade on Gaza?
The benefits of eating a bit of crow may come in renewed cooperation with NATO, and the use of Turkey's airspace for pilot training, which the Israeli Air Force has to do somewhere other than the skies of its own small and crowded country. Israel will also profit from the sale of gas to a large Turkish market, and maybe from there through additional pipelines on to Europe. Moreover, the prospect of such a market may help Bibi's government maneuver through the opposition to the present arrangement with gas companies and investors.
For Turkey, how much should it ratchet down from demands for the sake of buying Israeli gas, now that the Russians have stopped selling their gas to Turkey? Turkey is also having problems with Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah of Lebanon over differing postures toward Assad and the Islamic State. The Kurds are always a source of tension, and there are quarrels with Egypt over Turkey's support of Hamas. So Turks who dream of re-establishing an Ottoman Empire may have to eat some crow and deal with the Jews.
For those fascinated by Israeli sex, the Minister of Interior has resigned. There are more stories of his harassment, and one tale of sex in a restaurant restroom with an underling who was willing. The Minister's bodyguard reported that story, and the cartoonist of Ha'aretz portrayed the scene, with a guard standing outside an active compartment.
The Legal Adviser to the Government has instructed the police to proceed with an investigation, among other things asking the ladies involved if they are willing to submit a formal complaint, or testify against the now-former Minister.
Christmas is upon us. It's easy to overlook here, although it's all about what happened 10 miles to the south.
For those who celebrate, may it be Merry.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)Department of Political ScienceHebrew University of Jerusalem