For those of us who care deeply about Israel — and feel revulsion at the way it is demonized in an uncaring, hopelessly biased world — the past few days have been disheartening.

A Gaza flotilla that claimed humanitarian motives but in reality sought a propaganda victory over the hated Israelis and possibly the violent confrontation that ensued has ignited a new frenzy of condemnation around the world. Many flotilla supporters profess grief at the loss of nine lives in the Israeli attack, but what comes across most clearly is an unseemly glee that Israel has once again been goaded into actions that will be exploited to harden its status as a pariah state.

That said, this weekend’s disaster on the Mediterranean raises important questions about how policy decisions are made in Jerusalem.

For days before the flotilla sailed, Israeli officials and their friends here argued — correctly, we believe — that it was a propaganda ploy, not a humanitarian mission, and that many participants were seeking a confrontation on the high seas. So why, exactly, did Israeli forces give flotilla radicals exactly what they wanted? Was the botched attack the result of faulty intelligence — or simply policy driven by anger, rather than strategic thinking?

There are also legitimate and important questions about whether the attack — like the Gaza blockade itself — has hurt or helped Hamas. Further, the botched attack may have undermined Israel’s most critical foreign policy priority: building international support for strong efforts to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. At best, the incident is a distraction that comes just as U.S.-led efforts seemed about to move the process forward; at worst, it will be used by Iran’s enablers, riding the tidal wave of anti-Israel rage, to keep the pressure off Tehran.

Israel has a right to feel indignant about a world that treats it with the crudest kind of double standard. But indignity does not make for sound policy. It is one thing to be right legally, as Israel was in protecting the Gaza blockade, and quite another to do what is best strategically.

As Editor Gary Rosenblatt notes in his column this week, there are two potential existential threats to Israel emerging now. One is a nuclear Iran, and as yet another reminder of the urgency at hand, there are reports just this week that Tehran now has fuel for two nuclear weapons. The other lethal threat is the global effort to delegitimize Israel, with Palestinian militants and a network of anti-Israel activists hoping Jerusalem will implode from internal pressures, as happened to the Soviet Union and South Africa.

On both scores, it behooves Israel to work closely with its allies, primarily the U.S., in preventing Iran from getting the bomb and in acting with wisdom and bold clarity to expose the delegitimizers as the anti-democratic forces they are. And it is critical for Israeli leaders to measure every potential response to the international challenges they face against the benchmark of how it will affect those core goals.

Such wisdom is not easy to achieve in a violent Middle East filled with Israel-hating extremists who care little about the human lives wasted in their efforts to prod Israel to violence. But wisdom, and the far-sighted, proactive policy it helps generate, are what the world’s only Jewish state will need to achieve peace and security in this most unforgiving of environments.

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