By Joseph Puder

Where is the Israel of the past? What happened to the country that knew how to defend its national interests and protect its friends?

Under Prime Minister David Ben Gurion Egyptian sponsored Fedayeen (terrorists) incursions into Israel in the 1950's was met with retaliatory raids that killed 10 Egyptians or Jordanians for every Israeli murdered by terrorists. Ariel Sharon was, in fact, one of those commanding many of the raids.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin understood the threat to Israel from a nuclear Iraq under Saddam Hussein. He ordered the destruction of the Osirak Nuclear facilitynear Baghdad in 1981.

Earlier, Prime Minister Golda Meir responded to the Egyptian War of Attrition against Israel, between 1967-1970, by ordering massive aerial retaliation that ultimately ended that war.

Menachem Begin, as a Holocaust survivor and a man of heart and soul and strong Jewish pride, could not ignore the Syrian and Palestinian butchery of the Christians in Lebanon, and came to their rescue in 1976 and massively in 1982.

These three prime ministers of Israel had vision and heart, and they were more than mere politicians - they were statesmen/women. Ben Gurion possessed the courage to declare a State (of Israel) in the midst of Arab threats. Golda Meir was not intimidated by Soviet threats, and Menachem Begin was not afraid of possible US embargo or Soviet intimidation, to fight for Israel's national interests.

Since the 1990's Israel has had calculating politicians who have lacked the principled leadership of Ben Gurion, Golda Meir and Menachem Begin. All subsequent prime ministers: Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak, and Sharon have been major failures because they lacked vision and integrity. Unlike their Diaspora-born predecessors, they failed to bring unity, pride, and purpose to the people of Israel.

The Hezbollah is a looming threat, and Israel's failure to deal them a blow and remove them from Southern Lebanon, will result in greater sacrifices of Israeli lives in the future. Barak's unilateral withdrawal signaled Israeli weakness and lack of resolve. Sharon's restraint in spite of repeated Hezbollah provocations empowered the Hezbollah and emboldened it to fund, train, and support Palestinian terrorist groups including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, among others.

Hezbollah's aim is to wreck the US sponsored Road Map. Its ultimate strategy is to eliminate US presence and influence in the Arab Middle East, and to destroy the Jewish State. The US administration's hasty withdrawal from Lebanon in 1983 under Ronald Reagan,served as a catalyst in propelling Hezbollah to its current prominence and power in Lebanon.

The failure of prime ministers Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu, Barak and now Sharon to dislodge the Hezbollah from Southern Lebanon by destroying its military arm (its forces have grown to 60,000 strong) which are supported by Syria and Iran, will also undermine the emergence of a democratic Lebanon.

Sharon is too busy trying to dislodge Jews from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip to be focused on the threats to Israel from Hezbollah. Moreover, the Sharon government has been silent in the face of the impending execution of 15 Palestinian "collaborators" accused of aiding Israel in its fight against Palestinian terrorists. It would be both morally and ethically proper for Sharon to communicate to Palestinian President Abbas, that protecting terrorists by sentencing "collaborators" to death is against the spirit of fighting the terrorist infra-structure and the Road Map.

Instead of demanding that the "collaborators" be freed or turned over to Israel in exchange for convicted Palestinian terrorists with blood on their hands, Sharon has chosen to ignore the issue. Where is the courage of conviction? Aside from the moral issue of putting Palestinian civilians who warned Israeli authorities of an impending terrorist action or pointed out the whereabouts of terrorists to death, where is the outcry against the death penalty for those people? And where are the voices of the "ethicists" of B'zelem, Peace Now, the Israeli High Court of Justice, and the political left in Israel?

Who would want to rescue Jews if we look the other way when Israel's Arab friends face death? What happened to our strong moral code, to the belief that we must rescue our friends? Witness, for example, the Lebanese-Christian militiamen who fought side by side with Israel against the Hezbollah only to be abandoned by Ehud Barak or the "collaborators?

Ariel Sharon is making sure that no Palestinian Arab or Lebanese ever stake his or her life to defend Israel. Thanks to Barak and Sharon, Israel will beseen as cowardly and untrustworthy. This is hardly a way to build deterrence against Israel's enemies or to forge trust among potential Arab friends, who seek a safer and a more democratic Middle East.

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