(Amos regev-Israelhayom)."A manager does things right; a leader does the right things," goes a popular saying about leadership. A leader's primary attribute, the thing that sets him apart and determines how good he is, is his ability to do "the right thing." That is also the main quality expected of a military leader: the ability to make "executive decisions" amid the fog of battle, conflicting reports, contradictory intelligence assessments, and the cacophony of conflicting advice and experts pulling in opposite directions. These are the decisions that decide battles, set precedents, shape history.
In the context of the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict, the Shalit deal was an executive decision of this kind. There is no need to repeat all of the good reasons for and against the deal, which are well-known. The fact is that Prime Minister Netanyahu inherited this problem from the previous government, including earlier commitments as well as other Hamas demands which were left unresolved. The fact is that after two and a half years of negotiations, the other side had to relinquish its central demand that Israel release all "hardened" terrorists, in particular those who had become symbols. For this concession, the leaders of Hamas are absorbing unusual criticism from their side. Israel, for its part, had to agree to release murderers, people it had previously refused to release, as well as Arab-Israeli terrorists. And for this, Netanyahu is taking criticism from our side.
The bottom line, however, is most important here: Benjamin Netanyahu committed himself to work toward the release of Gilad Shalit, and he kept his promise. Plenty of ups and downs led to this bottom line, plenty of fog, and a lot of noise. Much advice, good and bad, plenty of advisors who sit on the fence and say "this way" as well as "that way." Who say, "on the one hand," and then "on the other hand." And the family, of course, and the demonstrations.
And in the midst of all this, when all is said and done, the decision belonged to one man. By himself, on his conscience, his responsibility. One can only guess what he went through, when the protests and insults were hurled at him from the outside - while he knew, without being able to so much as hint, that all the while he was working in secret to achieve the very same goal.
The media loves to criticize Netanyahu for everything, claiming, as do some of his opponents, that he is incapable of making decisions - and when he does, that they were made under pressure. The decision on the Shalit deal disproves this claim. The prime minister made an executive decision on the most sensitive issue of all - and precisely at a time when there was no immediate pressure to do so. The last big demonstrations took place over a year ago; the only ongoing protest activity came from the Shalit family's protest tent in Jerusalem. In any case, Netanyahu assessed the situation and reached the conclusion that this was the best deal that it was possible to attain, and that this was the last chance to seal the deal before the "Arab winter" hits the Middle East with all its force.
Netanyahu, as prime minister, has sometimes erred on minor, day-to-day, short-term issues. However, when it comes to identifying long-term, historic processes and trends taking shape just below the surface, on this he has often been right.
This is the one attribute that separates a leader from the mob of advisors, commentators and self-proclaimed know-it-alls, the one that makes the small difference between failure and success, between life and death. A leader can also make mistakes. But most important is his ability to do "the right thing" on the important issues. The decision on the Shalit deal saved the life of a single Israeli soldier, but it also proved that, on those issues which touch the core of our existence here as a society, a nation and a state, we have someone who is capable of making decisions. As another quote on leadership states: "There comes a time when you need to stop standing in neutral and put the car into gear."
The car carrying Gilad Shalit is on its way home.