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The state of Israel is threatened. It is surrounded by external threats, some threaten its existence. But the most dangerous threat to the state of Israel is not external, but internal - a psychological threat. The most dangerous threat to Israel is the threat of intellectual dishonesty.

It's no accident that various Israeli leaders from time to time compare the state to a ship plowing through a stormy sea. Unlike the superpowers, Israel cannot be compared to a broad continent with a secure and guaranteed existence. It's more like a small sailing vessel whose future is determined by its ability to navigate through powerful currents, waves, and crises.

Under such circumstances, a vital condition for preserving the existence of the boat is a sober and ruthless perspective of the reality through which the vessel sails. Any blink of an eye, any blindness, any temptation to fall prey to a siren's call, is a supreme threat to its very existence.

In the decade before the state was declared, and during the first two decades of its existence, Israel was characterized by sobriety. Under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion it showed a remarkable ability to understand the essence of the ocean surrounding it, and to behave appropriately. The self-discipline it revealed by subsuming itself to the principle of that realism enabled the state to evolve and helped firm its foundations, bringing decisive victories in 1948 and 1967.

But since the Six Day War, Israeli sobriety has gradually faded. The cognitive discipline has been loosened. So much so, that in the last 20 years two illusory visions gripped Israelis - one totally ignoring the existence of the Palestinians, the other totally ignoring the Palestinians' wishes and intentions. One denied there were limits to power, the other denied the crucial need for power. One posited a super-dream of the Greater Land of Israel above the principle of reality, while the other placed the super-dream of the perfect peace above the principle of reality.

Israel became the ship of fools painted by Hieronymus Bosch - a drifting wreck where drunkards of various sorts quarrel endlessly with eccentrics of other sorts. The moonstruck lash out incessantly at the zodiac worshipers, and the zodiac worshipers flail at the moonstruck. And even when the tide rises and the waves wash over the decks, those in thrall to the contradictory delusions refuse to give up their fantasies, refuse to bid farewell to those peculiar optical illusions that have defined their identity.

The last good thing that happened in the country since the summer of 2000 is that two illusions have been smashed. The two messianic ideologies that have twisted the Israeli mind for the last generation have collapsed.

In the last two years, the reality that most Israelis have tried to ignore has penetrated deeply, shaking all and striking all. Nearly every decent Israeli is now forced to conduct his or her own inner soul searching. Nearly every reasonable Israeli has been forced to understand that for a long time they were stricken with dementia.

That repressed understanding, which so few have admitted to in public, is what created the national unity government. The Sharon-Peres government was in fact a government of two broken ideologies that understood only cooperation between them would stabilize their common ship and begin a process of national healing.

But Sharon and Peres did not come up with a profound new idea and did not calibrate a true compass that would guide Israel out of its crisis, enabling it to pump out the water gradually seeping into its bilge. The prime minister and foreign minister behaved like two battered captains grasping each other by the wheel. Their government was not a government of a new start, but of weary, groggy men unable to deal with the errors of their past.

Nonetheless, what awaits us now is much worse. Over the past few weeks, as the national unity government disintegrated, it is become apparent that the two warring political camps have learned very little. Unlike Israel's citizens, Israeli leaders have not grasped the real meaning of the reality in which they live.

Right and left continue to be cowards. Right and left show a total lack of intellectual honesty - that's why it's easy for them to go return to the dementia. That's why it's convenient for the two sides to go back to the great rumble of zodiac worshipers versus moonstruck.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen! Just before the great storm strikes, we are now getting ready to climb back aboard the ship of fools once again.