For a generation, Israel provided the definition of how terrorists should be neutralized.
The rescue of skyjacked hostages from an airport in Uganda in July 1976 gave the world one word for success against terrorists: Entebbe.
But times have changed and terrorists have become not only more clever, but more ruthless. Skyjackers have been replaced by suicide bombers who can strike virtually anywhere and anytime. Sometimes the bombers kill only themselves. Other times, dozens have died.
Faced with this daily danger and the potential for horrible casualties at anytime, Israel has lost its appearance of invincibility. Worse, it has become clumsy in its responses and the kind of surgical strikes for which it was famous have given way to horrendous mistakes.
It made another one Thursday.
We have long supported Israel's right to protect itself against terrorism, especially in recent years against the suicide bombers.
But Israel's attempt Thursday to assassinate Mohammed Deif, a man described as Hamas' chief bomb maker. was not only ill conceived, it was badly executed. And the result damaged Israel's standing, even among its friends.
Israeli helicopter gunships located Deif's Mercedes when it was stuck in traffic in a crowded Gaza City neighborhood as children were pouring out of school nearby.
The mission should have been aborted. Instead, the helicopters fired two missiles at Deif's car. Two bodyguards were killed. Thirty-five bystanders were wounded, including 15 elementary students. Deif was injured, but survived.
The men who engineered the escape from Entebbe would not be proud. Israel cannot be proud today of what it has done.
While repeating his support and that of the United States for Israel dozens of times, President Bush has also asked Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to show more restraint. Sharon has not done so, and he has been wrong.
At a time when the United State is asking the United Nations to enforce sanctions against Iraq for its defiance of U.N. resolutions, Israel is setting the stage for more onerous resolutions against it. The United States is going to find it difficult to argue for a dual standard of compliance by nations that are subject to U.N. demands.