The Washington Post had a fantastic article [update: Howard Kurtz calls it "the best reporting I've ever seen on a very difficult subject"] a few days ago on Israel's policy of assassinating terrorist leaders. In contrast to the all-too-typical portrait of Israel as an "Old Testament society" exacting an "eye for an eye",* or worse, as some bloodthirsty barbaric state, this article shows Israeli leaders agonizing over (Palestinian) civilian casualties, struggling with related moral issues, learning disparate lessons from the Holocaust, insisting on obeying the rules laid down by their legal advisors, and otherwise behaving the way one would expect leaders of a moral, Western nation to behave. However, I still think the Israeli government made its biggest mistake in many years by being so sensitive about civilian casualties that it lost the opportunity to wipe out most of Hamas's leadership in one fell swoop in 2003, an episode recounted in detail in the article. Ultimately, more Israeli AND Palestinian civilians will die because of this decision, which strikes me as a case of certain Israeli leaders failing in their obligations as leaders so they could sleep better at night.
* something I've seen even friends of Israel like former Sec. of State George Schultz, among other American officials assert, in defending Israeli military actions ("you have to understand, Israel is an Old Testament society"). The eye for an eye metaphor gets used amazingly often when it comes to stories on Israel. In the late Lebanon War, various reporters and editorialists accused Israel of taking more than an eye for an eye. And one can find some truly absurd usages. Here's one story from the Boston Globe, back in 1991 by Curtis Wilkie, Jerusalem correspondent: "Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir is diplomatic about the issue. Rather than speaking in Old Testament terms of 'an eye for an eye,' Shamir likes to say that Israel will not be drawn into a Ping-Pong match with Iraq." Why would Shamir speak in "Old Testament" terms? He's not an ancient Hebrew! Not even a religious Jew! Sure, Israelis occasionally use biblical allusions, but it's hardly what one expects on a day to day basis from the Prime Minister, unless you are pretty ignorant of both Jewish religion and Israeli culture.
Let's get this straight once and for all: modern Judaism, even among the most Orthodox, is not an "Old Testament religion"--religious law is based almost entirely on Talmudic and other rabbinic interpretations, extrapolations, and just plain inventions, which often stray very far from the text of the Torah and are more recent than the "New Testament". An eye for an eye was itself interpreted many centuries ago to mean merely "the punishment shall fit the crime." Moreover, most Israelis are not religious in any event. The idea that Israel supposedly acts more aggressively because of the Torah and it's eye for an eye mentality, as opposed to the Christian nations which implicitly must be turning the other cheek when attacked (ha!), is a remnant of anti-Jewish prejudices (or at least notions of Christian moral superiority), and survives even in the mind of those like Schultz who I'm sure didn't intend to promote any such prejudice.