History plays a bizarre, somewhat dangerous game.
For the second time during an Israeli operation in Lebanon, the village of Kafr Kana has suffered a severe blow. A substantial number of civilians have been killed and wounded, and the entire IDF operation is now being perceived in light of this event.
In 1996, "Operation Grapes of Wrath" was one of the extended campaigns that the IDF periodically carried out in southern Lebanon. Then, as today, the IDF operated against the terror infrastructure in the region. That operation was halted after misdirected artillery fire killed over 100 civilians. Israel had to apologize and stop the operation prematurely. Israel also had to absorb great international criticism that made the military effort even more complex to carry out.
A similar event happened Sunday morning, again in Kafr Kana. This time an Israeli air force jet fired missiles at a building there. Several surveillance photos showed that Hizbullah rocket launcher crews had fired from the site, then ran inside the building to hide, using children and uninvolved civilians for cover.
When targeting the terrorists in the building, Israel had no intention of harming the innocent. Now the question is whether Israel will stop Operation Change of Direction. Will Israel change direction, after unintentionally harming civilians?
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are facing a dilemma now - whether to listen to the harsh public reaction, or stick to the line taken thus far, according to which there will be no stopping the military operation until all goals are met.
I would not like be in their shoes right now, but in my opinion, Israel must continue its military actions.
I know this is a difficult decision, which some claim shows callousness and indifference. Nevertheless, it seems that any other decision would be a wrong one. It might be easier for us internationally in the short term, but the long-term implications might be disastrous.
Israel launched this operation with an internal consensus and based on the most profound international understanding that we had ever enjoyed. Israel, which had withdrawn to the international border in May 2000, coordinated its steps with the United Nations, which confirmed the border demarcation and that there were no outstanding territorial disputes. Israel fully respected that border and had no desire to cross it again, but found itself repeatedly attacked by Hizbullah.
Hizbullah exploited the six year period since then to arm itself to the teeth. The continuous bombardment of Israel in the last three weeks is unprecedented in our history. The deep strikes on the home front and the threat to our personal safety are heavy blows which we must not tolerate. It's reasonable to assume that Hizbullah hasn't utilized its entire arsenal and it's likely that it is hiding different kinds of long-range weapons, some of which are perhaps yet to be used.
We need to recognize that Iran is no longer a distant, potential threat. Today, Iran is threatening our borders through a proxy that acts according to the wishes and commands of its rulers. It is obvious that Iran has planned this move calmly and cunningly to divert international attention from its nuclear plans. Israel cannot allow this plan to proceed without trying to stop it.
However, alongside making the right decision to continue the operation, Israel needs to start a campaign of wide public diplomacy. There is no need to be discouraged by the preliminary reaction. We need to emphasize the wide context of this confrontation. We need to express our condolences over and over, to repeatedly say that Israel, its army and its air force act according to moral standards, and that we never turned our weapons deliberately against civilians. We need to emphasize that terror has been directed against us for dozens of years, but particularly in the past six years, in the north, south and center of the country.
Israel absorbed more terror attacks in the years 2000-2005 than any other country in the world. Israel is now dealing with two arms of international terror - in the North, Hizbullah and in the South, Hamas - acting in the name and for the sake of these countries which condemn us now, but who fear that they themselves will be the next victims of terror.
We must act quickly, thoroughly and with complete confidence in the belief that accidents happen in every war, and in this one, too. But this kind of accident should not divert attention from the main challenge we face: a democratic, Western country which acts according to moral standards faces a fundamentalist terror organization that acts against and from within the civil population, intentionally and brutally. We must present and market these facts, repeatedly and persistently.
The terrorists will not simply surrender this time, perhaps not ever, but Israel is acting to wear down and weaken them. This is also an achievement that should be kept in mind in light of the sorrow, the apology and the pain regarding the death of civilians today in Kafr Kana.
Nachman Shai is senior vice president and director-general of United Jewish Communities' Israel Office. He also is a former IDF Spokesperson who served in that capacity during the first Gulf War.