DURING THE last holiday weekend, Americans awakened to reports of a badly botched Israeli military operation.

During an earlier holiday weekend - July 4, 1976 - Americans awakened to reports of a near-perfect Israeli military strike that rescued 100 Air France passengers who were facing death from Palestinian skyjackers.

The Israel Defense Forces' intelligence, skill and deception stunned the world. The only Israeli soldier killed in the daring raid was Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of current Israeli prime minister, Benjamin.

Both brothers were alumni of Cheltenham High, and his brother's death undoubtedly shapes the way the prime minister thinks about terrorism.

The world was stunned in a different way last weekend.

Faced with a Hobson's choice of two indigestible options - allow the Gaza blockade to be broken, or to stop it by force - Israel blundered into a trap laid by the Palestinians. Israel was dumb.

The poorly planned raid resulted in nine civilian deaths after commandoes were dropped into the waiting arms of knife- and pipe-wielding "peace activists" aboard a ship hired by a Turkish "humanitarian" organization with ties to terrorism, according to the U.S. government. The radical Islamist Hamas organization - pledged to the destruction of Israel - controls Gaza. Its northern end has been blockaded by Israel for three years to bar arms and munitions. Its southern end was blockaded by Egypt for the same reasons.

Naturally, anti-Israel marches erupted across the world.

Every single day Muslims are blown up by other Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, even in mosques. Any screaming masses marching to the beat of that Islamic drum?

No. When Israelis defend themselves they are "Nazis" and Palestinians are "martyrs." Israel and the U.S. are the only nations held accountable for Muslim deaths.

Third World anti-Israel sentiment stems from their perception of Israel as, basically, a European nation, and Europe, they say, is the source of much of the world's misery, past and present. The Third World, we know, is a fragrant garden of peace, freedom and human rights.

Antagonism to Israel in the Arab world is a given. In Europe, a different dynamic. Europe was supportive of Israel until about three decades ago, then turned antagonistic.

Why? The socialistic Labor Party governed Israel from its 1948 birth until 1977. In that year, the right-wing Likud party won, and the affection of left-leaning Europe cooled. (There's also a rising tide of Muslims living in Europe.)

Israel is bashed hardest by the furthest left countries - and also by the most totalitarian.

To their credit, the Palestinians have sold their narrative as an innocent, dispossessed people, while erasing the fact that they are part and parcel of a hostile Arab world that has repeatedly attacked Israel and continues to attack by deed and word to this day.

When Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas says that the Israeli raid was made "with determination to kill," he has to explain why five other ships in the flotilla were stopped and peacefully taken to port. Israel didn't fire on those ships because protesters weren't violent. That's true of earlier ships intercepted.

Given the PR bonanza from last weekend, the pro-Hamas "peace activists" are sending more ships. Their game is not truly to get relief to Gazans. They could do that by dropping their cargo in an Israeli port. The goal is to give Israel a black eye and to try to drive a wedge between Israel and the U.S.

It's a zero-sum game for the terrorists. If they get video of Israel "heartlessly" turning back humanitarian supplies, Hamas wins. If civilians get hurt, Hamas wins. If the blockade is broken, Hamas wins. Israel cannot let that happen. It must keep the blockade, but develop tactics worthy of the ingenious Israel of 1976.

E-mail stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. For recent columns:

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