Israel:The people are CONFUSED : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

The people are CONFUSED By Yoel Marcus Israel's leaders will not rest until they have frightened this country's citizens to death. Not a day goes by without some cabinet minister, member of Knesset, senior Israel Defense Forces officer or the like burdening Israelis with yet another gloomy prediction or Cassandra-like prophecy.

Only this week, the defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, warned that, within four years, Iran - which, according to Israeli military intelligence reports, already has missiles with a sufficient range to hit targets in Israel - will have a nuclear bomb. Israelis had not yet managed to stop shaking before Ben-Eliezer declared that Hezbollah is a serious strategic threat with its 8,000 Katyusha rockets and its missiles capable of hitting Hadera. A month ago, these same missiles were capable of hitting Zichron Yaakov, then Netanya. As things heat up over the primaries in the Labor Party, the missiles may perhaps even reach Tel Aviv.

The outgoing head of research in Military Intelligence, Brigadier General Amos Gilad, the founder of the theory of promoting fear, has warned Israelis that they can "look forward" to a daily diet of five terrorist attacks. Jerusalem District Police Commander Yair Yitzhaki, who has poetically declared his sympathy for the sorrows of the capital with "My heart goes out to Jerusalem," has said that the country must deal with a wave of utter madness. Yitzhaki's superior officer, Israel Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonisky has made it clear that his police force is incapable of hermetically sealing off the country from the threat of terrorism.

Meanwhile, IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, in an interview to the press, has noted that his successor will also have to contend with the Intifada - which means that the Intifada will continue to plague Israelis until at least 2006. The five years of Mofaz and his successor times Gilad's five terror attacks per day produces a figure that is enough to make all Israelis quake in their boots.

The heads of the various branches of Israel's defense establishment have always been an inexhaustible source of apocalyptic warnings. Sometimes, those warnings have been sounded on the eve of the debate on the defense budget and sometimes they have been sounded in the context of disagreements between the top brass and the politicians.

Israelis have already been given frightening predictions of chemical warfare, Syrian preparations for war, and the imminent danger of an all-out military conflagration in the region. Yet the top brass have been unable to fathom Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, who has been in the field for the past 36 years, and they depict him either as having demonic powers or being a giant jellyfish. In contrast to the panic that the public demonstrated during the Gulf War, the nerves of Israelis are stronger today than those of their leaders.

Despite the fact the economy is continually going downhill, and tourists and foreign investors are avoiding Israel as if it were a leper colony, there are no signs in Israeli society of either hysteria or defeatism. Israel's cabinet ministers see to it that they have round-the-clock bodyguards, yet most Israelis, without security personnel or gorillas to guard their every move, are continuing to visit the shopping malls and to go to their usual entertainment venues. Israelis have not turned back their emotional clock to the days of the Gulf War and Arafat has not managed to do to them what Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein succeeded in doing back then.

It is the government that is broadcasting a message of panic - with its military operations that are snowballing, steadily growing more and more formidable. Slowly but surely they are crawling back to the era of the retaliatory raids of the 1950s, with the use of F-16 fighter jets to bomb empty buildings, with the operations of infantry and armored corps in Area A (operations reminiscent of the War of Lebanon), and with the "capture" of Orient House in East Jerusalem (a building that was half-deserted recently anyway). In light of all these developments, one has the distinct impression that it is the country's leadership - not the Israeli public - that is (to paraphrase a campaign declaration of former prime minister Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu) slightly CONFUSED.

The country is suffering because of the id?e fixe of its leadership. Granted, the government includes two seasoned politicians; however, both of them are living in the past. Neither of them has the courage to declare to the Israeli public that peace will be obtained not through force of arms but rather through the payment of a heavy price - namely, the surrender of territories and Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres believes that he has the magic touch capable of maneuvering the Palestinians to a peace agreement. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon nostalgically remembers the 101 unit he commanded and the romantic climate generated by that unit's retaliatory raids. However, when he personally briefs brigade commanders in the field he sounds like Alexander Graham Bell teaching Nokia executives how to produce a satellite-link cellular phone.

The ball is now in the Israeli court. Sharon is the one who will have to formulate the strategy and decide what direction he wants to take and what he is prepared to put on the negotiating table when he sits down at it. Right now, he is a Golda Meir-clone. A clone in terms of the immense popularity she enjoyed and in terms of her stubborn refusal to give in. Golda could have reached a peace agreement and would have had wide support among the Israeli public, while Sharon could lead the way toward major concessions and could rely on the backing of most Israelis. Time and circumstances are giving Sharon all the tools that he needs to undertake some historic measures. Israelis are expecting him to serve as a compass and as a Great Leader and are not expecting him to be forced into adopting an intransigent position or advocating solutions based on the use of force - because intransigence and a reliance on force could plunge Israel into the kind of catastrophe that Golda brought upon the heads of Israelis with the Yom Kippur War.

The Israelis have far more stamina than the Palestinians and can stand fast for a very long time - but only if their leadership knows what it wants. Only if their leadership tells them the truth about the price that peace will exact and only if, instead of using scare tactics, that leadership shows Israelis that there is some light - no matter how faint - at the end of the tunnel.

-- Martin Thompson (, August 17, 2001

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