Four extraordinary exploits stick out in Israel's short history: the Six-Day War in June 1967; the Entebbe hostage rescue on July 4, 1976; the destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981; and the airlift of thousands of Ethiopian Jews in Operation Solomon in May 1991.
These events demonstrated Israel's ability to act with almost unbelievable audacity and skill. They were met globally with admiration or consternation, but each captured the world's imagination and, perhaps most importantly, unified the Jewish people in pride.
To the same degree, these events were all terrible moral blows to those seeking Israel's destruction since they demonstrated our iron will to prevail.
These operations share some common characteristics: They were accomplished largely or completely from the air, and they were over in a few days. Each demonstrated the almost impossibly long reach of a tiny, embattled country. Each showed courage, decisiveness and the willingness to take calculated risks.
Sometimes, it seemed that Israel had long ago lost the gumption necessary to repeat such feats. All happened before the Oslo accords and the subsequent debilitating morass of a "peace process" gone sour.
Yet twice in recent times Israel has taken dramatic action on the scale of those four extraordinary ones: Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, and the operation going on in Gaza and, particularly, Lebanon today. These may not be as clean and dramatic as their more flamboyant predecessors. Arguably, however, they exhibit greater national courage and fortitude, and should contribute no less to the morale of the Jewish people and the dismay of our enemies.
Remember that Defensive Shield came at a time when suicide bombers were striking our cities at a furious rate, and it seemed that nothing could be done about them. In just 10 days between March 21 to March 31, 2002, some 54 Israeli civilians were murdered in five terrorist attacks, four of them suicide bombings.
But something could be done, and Israel did it. Israel Defense Force soldiers went into the dense warrens located in the centers of Palestinian cities where the terrorists had ensconced themselves in the midst of poor neighborhoods. Rather than bombing the concentrated areas where the terrorists were from the air, the IDF went in on the ground in order to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties.
Fast-forward to today and the similar sense of hopelessness that prevailed in the face of Kassam missiles, and the global indifference to them. Our enemies were playing the usual "no address" game, in which the attacks came from groups with shifting names that Israel had to search out individually, while those calling the shots, be they in Ramallah, Gaza, Beirut, Damascus or Tehran, escaped responsibility.
Worse, in the case of Lebanon, Israel's decision-makers faced the fact that some 14,000 missiles were pointed at our cities, from Tel Aviv to the northern border, poised to strike if we dared to change the rules and defend ourselves.
When the Cabinet decided, in the wake of a Hezbollah attack into Israel that killed four soldiers and captured two more, to attempt to destroy Hezbollah and hold the Lebanese government accountable, it knew that that fearsome array of missiles would be let loose. Yet it decided to go ahead, hoping that the people of Israel — including those whose lives would be endangered, turned upside-down, and even lost in the ensuing missile attacks — would understand the necessity for drastic and definitive action.
They were right. Polls show that the vast majority of Israelis support the government's decision.
If there is a question, it is whether it is a mistake to hold Syria, which has heavily supplied Hezbollah and is greatly responsible for the refusal of the Lebanese government to disarm this group, largely immune.
We happen to be at a moment, however, when the West is itself gearing up to confront Iran, which may well explain why Hezbollah-Iran decided to attack Israel in the first place.
The near-miraculous turnabout in June 1967, when Israel went from being on the brink of destruction to total victory over multiple Arab armies, inspired Jews the world over — particularly Soviet Jews, who discovered their dormant identity and viewed Israel's victory as a blow to their oppressors.
Our refusal to be cowed by Hezbollah's missiles — and our attempt to destroy Iran's external terrorist arm — should inspire the international community to similar acts of courage.
Saul Singer is editorial-page editor of The Jerusalem Post.