Every so often, we have the opportunity to learn a much-needed lesson in the art of statecraft. Israel just received such a lesson from its Druze community.
The Druze are a small and historically persecuted religious sect living mostly in northern Israel, Lebanon and parts of Syria. Israel’s Druze citizens are renowned for their identification with the state and their willingness to serve in the IDF, but it would be a mistake to confuse their friendliness for passivity.
The Druze are proud and protective of their culture, their religion and their way of life. They recognize the value of being part of Israeli society and have been the model for how a minority community can enjoy a win-win relationship with the Jewish state.
This past week, an 18-year-old Druze, Tiran Fero from Daliyat al-Karmel in northern Israel, was severely injured in a road accident near the Palestinian town of Jenin. The Palestinian Red Crescent brought him to a hospital in the town, and when Hamas operatives realized that Fero was an Israeli citizen, they disconnected him from life support systems and absconded with his body.
What they were hoping to accomplish, or what quid pro quo they were hoping to exact, was never quite clear, because almost immediately the Druze community threatened dire consequences if the body were not released to them.
Within 30 hours of the despicable kidnapping, Fero’s body was returned. Period. No prisoner exchange, no concessions, no nothing.
Yes, there were negotiations. Yes, even Qatar got involved. Yes, the IDF said that if negotiations did not succeed there would be serious consequences. But one strongly suspects that what ultimately brought about the return of Fero’s body was the mobilization of the Druze community and their threat to invade Jenin. A story is also circulating that Druze had kidnapped four Arabs and were threatening reprisals against them.
The Druze have just given us a tutorial in Middle East negotiation: strength matters. The willingness to use strength and an adversary’s inability to discern how far you are willing to go are critical.
There is a reason why there were no wars launched against the U.S. while Donald Trump was President: America’s adversaries could not read him. They thought he might be crazy, and they did not want to take a chance on how he might react to provocation.
That lack of certainty or, alternatively, the certainty that retaliation could be extreme, are lessons and mindsets that Israel has not done a great job of inculcating into the hearts and minds of our adversaries.
We preen too much, strutting our purity of arms, our morality, our desire to protect our enemies’ children as much as our own. All of this weakens deterrence and allows our adversaries to anticipate our moves and decisions.
To Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, the Druze were an unknown adversary. However, they both understood the situation. The Druze were prepared to unleash the gates of hell to get their boy back. That tends to focus the mind.
Of course, we don’t know what the Druze would ultimately have done. But given their reputations as good soldiers and their history as masterful survivors, the Palestinians smartly decided that they didn’t want to find out.
Israel has had the most success in tamping down terror and violence when it reacts in the strongest possible manner. The recent squelching of the Lion’s Den terrorist group is a good example of how unbridled retribution and the use of ancillary pressure and leverage on families of terrorists can be very effective.
None of this plays well in the drawing rooms of Brussels, but we must learn to tune out that nagging question of “what will the Europeans/Americans think?” or we will be compromised and self-neutered.
We live in a neighborhood that values strength over weakness, and resolve over compromise. It has little respect for nuance and accommodation. Strength and resolve alone are not necessarily the principles we would want to guide our behavior towards our families, our community or our relationships with other communities like the Druze, who have a fundamental interest in being part of our society.
But if we are not willing to let such principles guide our behavior towards those who hate us and want to destroy us, then we are only handing them the wherewithal to do so.
Douglas Altabef is the chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu—Israel’s largest grassroots Zionist organization—as well as a director of B’yadenu and of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at email@example.com.