A question of time
The siren that sounded across the country yesterday did not signal a genuine emergency. No rockets fell in the center of the country, and no skyscrapers collapsed in central Tel Aviv. The Kirya defense compound wasn't damaged, and Israel Air Force bases weren't paralyzed. The army's emergency storehouses weren't torched, and no power plant was wiped out. Underground parking garages were not swamped with masses of people seeking shelter. The roads were not blocked by hundreds of thousands of urbanites pouring out of the cities. And Ben-Gurion International Airport was not overrun by frightened Israelis fleeing their country.
But let's not delude ourselves: The national security situation is not good. Thanks to the unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Israel now faces a strategic threat from the north. Due to the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel faces the threat of rocket fire from the south as well. The Olmert war in Lebanon a year later strengthened Hezbollah to an unprecedented extent, and the Olmert war in Gaza in 2008-09 led to a dangerous erosion of Israel's legitimacy.
As a result of these four lamentable events, as well as the development of rockets and missiles, the Israel of 2010 is under far greater threat than the Israel of 2000. Its ability to use decisive force against those who threaten it has been greatly restricted. The quiet is deceptive. The ice is thin, and there is no way of knowing when or where it will break.
The threat of the occupation is no less severe than the threat of rocket fire. The settlers are extending their reach by the day, as the complexities of the territories grow ever more complex. The Palestinians are slowly pulling back from the two-state solution, and the implementation of that solution is growing increasingly more difficult. The international community is showing increasingly more impatience with one of the two states. Because of the occupation, the demographic situation of the state of the Jews is intolerable, and the state's moral situation is disgraceful. Because of the occupation, the political threat looms ever larger. Time is working against the State of Israel.
That's not what the right thinks, though. The right is still spreading the word that, apart from one or two things, everything's just fine. After all, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to put the brakes on U.S. President Barack Obama for a time. After all, Israel was approved for membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The economy is flourishing, summer's almost here, and life is grand. Just as immigration from Russia saved us in the 1990s and high tech saved us in the following decade, the natural gas fields that have been discovered and those yet to be discovered will save us in the next decade. Israeli vitality will prove itself yet again. It will soon become clear that we can live perfectly well even in an impossible situation. The doomsayers can talk all they want, but everything will be fine. There's nothing to worry about, nowhere to rush off to. If we don't give in, Abu Mazen will give up. If we don't blink, Obama will disappear. Don't worry, promises the right, the State of Israel has time on its side.
The real argument is the one concerning time. The right believes that Israel has plenty of time, because time gives Israel the opportunity to create facts on the ground. The right believes that Israel was established as a fact on the ground, and will succeed as a fact on the ground.
But that is wrong. Israel was established because its founders created facts on the ground with one hand and won diplomatic recognition of those facts with the other. Israel was established because its founders recognized when time is on the side of Zionism and when time is working against it. But over the last few decades, that insight into time has gotten lost, as has the wisdom of equilibrium. The illusion has sprung up that military might and economic prosperity are enough to assure our future. A dangerous dissonance has developed between visible reality and its invisible counterpart. The relative quiet that the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service and high tech have granted us has become a toxic quiet. It has allowed us to celebrate our lives without seeing the circumstances of our lives. It has allowed us to ignore the threats that are closing in on us.
The argument about time is an argument about life and death. On the eve of the Yom Kippur War, the right thought there was still time. On the eve of the intifada, the right thought there was still time. Today, too, when the threat of rocket fire and the threat of the occupation are tangible and immediate, the right thinks there is still time. But the truth is that there is no time. If we don't act in time, time will beat us. It is only the silent siren that warns us of the genuine emergency.