Steven Spielberg's fine film, "Munich," follows the secret, unofficial team that the Israeli government sent to kill the leaders of the Palestinian terror group Black September after the terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. At first Avner, the Mossad agent who leads the group, accepts his charge to hunt down Black September and murder them in spectacular ways, to send a message to Israel's many enemies. However, when each Black September leader is replaced by an even worse one, and when the Palestinians retaliate with attacks on Israeli embassies and civilians, Avner starts to doubt the morality of his team's, and his government's, actions.
Late in the film an anguished Avner asks his Mossad controller "what have we accomplished?" Why, he wants to know, if the men they killed were certainly terrorists and criminals, was he not sent to capture them and bring them back to Israel for trial, like Adolf Eichmann?
When we meet Avner, he is introduced as the son of a war hero, proud to be a Mossad agent, with his lovely, pregnant wife – a real sabra, as he insists. When he is summoned to meet his boss, a couple of generals, and Prime Minister Golda Meir – at her house, where she serves him coffee herself, and praises his father – well, what patriot could refuse the task they set for him to hunt down his nation's enemies? As he explains it to his wife later, he couldn't live with himself if he said no.
I think, though, that he (and Speilberg) get it right in the end. Satisfying though it might feel at first to hunt down terrorists, it was the wrong thing to do. Golda Meir, in the meeting in which she authorizes the assassinations, is shown saying that sometimes a civilization has to make compromises with its own values. But that compromise came back to bite them. The trial of Eichmann was Israel at its tough best. That is what they should have done with Black September. Sinking to the level of the terrorists did Israel no good; it brought even worse terrorists to power.