None of the people who, correctly, fear an Israeli attack on Iran and the war that would follow have considered the fact that "the next war" is already here. It has been entrenched in our consciousness and that of our leaders so deeply and for so long that most of the tension concerns its timing, not its probability. What was it that Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was quoted as saying this week? "The operation is always ready, the orders are always there, and if necessary we can carry it out." He was referring to a war in southern Israel, admittedly, but it's the intention that counts, being mentally prepared for the fact that "the next war" will indeed come - whether by necessity or by choice; if not from the east, then from the south, and if not from the south then from the north.

There are civilizations where the word "war" is uttered with fear and trembling, where it is seen as a total human catastrophe. But not in Israel, where "the next war" goes to sleep with us at night and drinks coffee with us in the morning. Its actualization is almost a mere technicality of how, when and how much.

We have experienced a few brief bursts of awareness during which "the next war" was absent for a few historic moments. There have been times when it was even replaced by a spark of hope for that illusory thing, so despised today, called "peace." But we recovered quickly from these stumbles, thanks to the combined efforts of both parties to the conflict. And when the day was won by the idea that the conflict cannot be solved, only managed, the "next war" resumed its natural role as a permanent fixture in our lives. With little sadness and even an occasional sigh of relief, the fact that we are a war that has a country sank in.

Many good people are once again trusting to the next war - dangerous, insane but "worthwhile" because it will "eliminate the Iranian threat," after which the land will be undisturbed for 40 years. They must be reminded not only of the sad consequences of the previous wars of choice, aimed at "eliminating" putative existential threats, but also of what all Israelis are nearly born knowing: that an "existential threat" of one kind or another has always hung over our heads, whether genuine or existing only in our own, or our leaders', tortured, Holocaust-traumatized consciousness: Ahmed Shukairy of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the "Egyptian despot" Gamal Abdel Nasser; Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and anthrax; PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah; and now, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the apocalypse. Each of them, in turn, like Hitler; each of them, in every generation, rose up to destroy us. Each of them, in turn, was justification for war.

But before plunging "out of necessity" into the next war we should ask: What if there were no Tehran? And were the "Iranian threat" somehow eliminated, would another not spring up immediately to take its place, at least in our consciousness? Also: What did we do prior to the "Iranian threat" besides worrying about the future?

Preventive wars are sometimes necessary - as the Bible says, "If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first." But as the current Israeli government demonstrates, the very fact of being permanently psychologically prepared for the next war and of accepting the absence of any chance to make peace can themselves blind and atrophy all alternative thinking and all diplomatic skills. Like the native inhabitants of America who did not see the Spanish ships approaching because they had no word for "ship," Israel may no longer be capable of identifying diplomatic options and nonmilitary measures even when they are being blasted into its ears by so many sirens.