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The defense minister and the prime minister may have wrapped themselves in crafty silence after the failed attempt to assassinate the top Hamas man Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and the big suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem that immediately followed it - but it was business as usual for the chief of staff. Lieutenant General Moshe "Bogy" Ya'alon spoke more than freely.

With his almost naive frankness - part of the banality of brutality - "Bogy" justified the oddly timed and botched assassination attempt, citing as his rationale, "the need to go crazy for a few days, so as not to slide down the slope."

"I am but mad north-north-west; when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw," said Hamlet, prince of Denmark, with equal assurance. The only trouble is that the directions and dosages of Israeli security "craziness" are not always clear.

On top of this, they have been continuing off and on for almost three years, accompanied by suspicions that here too there is "method" in their madness. The fact is that more than once - and more than twice too - thanks to some sort of wonderful prophetic or intelligence sense, the reprisal raids, the "targeted assassinations" and the "need to go crazy" manifested themselves before, rather than after, the revenge terrorism that came in their wake.

Yet, if there is anything that spoils any conspiracy theory about a junta involving both uniformed and retired officers who are torpedoing every incipient political move, it is the absence of the element of mystery. After all the "defense establishment" makes no secret of its professional opinion of hudna-shmudna, withdrawals and the other "buzzings about agreements that are floating in the air." How is it possible to foment a conspiracy theory when everything is openly and explicitly on the table?

In justification of the "craziness" - meaning forceful and exceptional military measures - we have the horrific and despair-making Palestinian-Islamic murderousness, for which a rational political response may well not exist. So perhaps, in the well-known remark by Moshe Dayan, it's natural to expect army people to be "galloping horses" that need to be reined in, rather than indolent foals that need spurring on.

But here's the rub - who will rein in their galloping? Who will check them when they get a sudden urge to kick up their hind legs? Shaul Mofaz? Ariel Sharon? Leader of the opposition MK Dalia "How we envy you for not having the kind of opposition that you and your colleagues were to us" Itzik?

Look where you will these days, you will not be able to find even the trace of another narrative, an alternative opinion to that of the "senior figures in the defense establishment," on the coldness of their calculations, the heat of their rage, and their gang-war approach to the conflict, including vendettas and blood revenge.

Never mind the alternative vision - meaning any vision at all. Where are the voices of the "civil" cabinet ministers in the decision-making process? Where are the Knesset committees? Where are the juridical, academic and media elites? Where are the parties?

Something strange seems to be happening to all this in the Sharon period. It's as though all the political and public civilization that is supposed to rein in the spirit of Unit 101, which has taken over everything, has withered.

All that remains of Israel's ramified and complex policies - the policies of a state that once purported to be of moral character - are awkward reflex actions lacking any morality, inhibition or integrity. There are only gut reactions, spasms of revenge, outbursts of rage, deceptive maneuvers. It's no wonder the terrorist organizations have learned how to play our anticipated reflexes as though they were playing an organ.

Everything today seems to be based on a negative approach, not on a voluntary blueprint of ours, not on a striving toward some goal. The military goals consist of ever diminishing slices of "room to maneuver" that are scraped up from under the table of the American master.

The political vision is created largely by collecting "loopholes in the law" and identifying loopholes in the positions of President Bush, with the help of big-time lawyers.

The fate of critical, historic subjects, such as the separation fence or the Palestinian state, is decided by some random urge, without an intelligent discussion. To understand the mentality by which Israel is being "managed" today, the media glimpse of the meeting that took place this week between the settlers and Prime Minister Sharon was highly instructive.

Sharon, the reports said, sat with eyes lowered across from his former buddies, his associates in the outposts, the settlements and the hilltop escapades in general.

To his credit it should be said that he demonstrated the same buffalo-like power - stubborn and unblinking - that he did in the face of his attackers from the left. But just as he wasn't capable of putting forward a positive and consistent vision of any kind to Israel's citizens, beyond his declaration that "we cannot occupy 3.5 million Palestinians," he was equally incapable of coping ideologically or morally with the settlers. There was nothing beyond the rationale of "we made a commitment," "a reality that we didn't want was formed," "the Americans are photographing settlements," and even, "there are Jews who are informers."

So he's not exactly a man of sweeping vision. Not exactly Ben-Gurion. Not a founding, productive father. And not exactly a person to address questions of morality and spirit. His is more the dissonant management of a person whose life and vision are no more than the sum of the constraints and the offsetting of the pressures under which he finds himself at every moment.

But despite everything, it is fascinating, and sometimes appalling, to follow this struggle, in which it seems a disillusioned Sharon is being punished by the gods. Maybe he has no Sharon in the opposition, but he does have a Sharon - one with "the need to go crazy for a few days" - right inside himself.