Will There Be a War?

There is still no reason to feel calm. As opposed to the army's promises that there will be a war, the prime minister said that in his estimation Israel is not near a war with Syria.

When a generation ago one of the members of Hagashash Hachiver, the classic Israeli comedy team, repeatedly shouted, "Will there be a war?" his friend replied, "Of course there will." He sighed: "Now I feel calm." But there is still no reason to feel calm. As opposed to the army's promises that there will be a war, the prime minister said that in his estimation Israel is not near a war with Syria.

He also asked the ministers and the generals to stop chattering, and during the security cabinet's meeting two days ago he even established a committee. It will of course include Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman. In the midst of the discussions the minister sneaked out to say in a radio interview that Syria is continuing to arm itself at a rate we haven't seen for years. Nor is there any reason to say this cautiously: Military Intelligence sounds as though it has lost its senses.

The General Staff's head of MI, a leading partner in the national assessment of the security situation, showed consideration for the prime minister and made do with a hint. In the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week, immediately after Ehud Olmert's request not to engage in warmongering, Major General Amos Yadlin listed Syria's infrastructure and even enumerated its facilities one by one in an alarmed tone.

Yesterday, as though hurrying at the last moment to join the chorus, Shaul Mofaz said Hezbollah is receiving its new missiles from Iran via Syria. According to one version, with this deceptive talk, politicians and generals are preparing for the cautionary letters from the committee that will investigate the next war. They have warned about anything that would or would not happen.

The current performance of the Hagashash Hachiver skit is already a matter for investigation. It contains so much confusion and defective judgment that once again it arouses bitter doubts about this battered country's strategic leadership. Is the political and military leadership showing signs of hysteria a year after its failure in the war? And isn't the prime minister, while still trying to rescue himself from the blow of the Winograd Committee, starting to become mired in a new swamp?

Instead of lecturing this gang about accepted methods of crisis management during a very sensitive period, here are some more questions about the war that will or will not take place:

  • What exactly prevented Olmert from responding to Bashar Assad's repeated declarations in recent months about his willingness to conduct negotiations immediately? For example, he could have sent the foreign minister to speak to her Syrian colleague. Instead, he sent messages. Is he the minister of communications or an Israeli leader?

  • Why did Olmert refuse to conduct negotiations about a temporary cease-fire in Gaza and the West Bank, in accordance with the proposal of the head of the Palestinian Authority? Because Hamas has preconditions? And we don't? Why is this institution of talks so neglected and abused if the possible alternatives are war in the North and the destruction, perhaps tomorrow morning, of an Israeli or Palestinian kindergarten?

  • The intelligence assessments did not mention the chance of negotiations, the calculation of the benefit/damage involved in genuine talks with the other side's leadership in Ramallah and Damascus. It's hard to understand MI: If it has gone to the trouble in recent months to inform us of another war, wouldn't it be reasonable for it to recommend that we examine this terrible fear by responding to the proposals of the Syrians and the moderate Arab Quartet (and the Palestinians' plea) to talk?

  • According to very recent reports, alongside the ministers' dire warnings about Syrian and Hezbollah missiles, the preparation of bomb shelters is creeping along at a slow pace, and the gas-mask situation is frightening. Is this another message to the Syrians that we're not preparing for war?

  • Where is so-called public opinion? If the public believes MI, it should be alarmed, shouldn't it? If it doesn't believe, that is no less frightening. How did it happen that the general public has sunk into such a comatose calm?

    Because unlike the generals and the politicians, you can't prepare. Whatever the case, it will be a hot summer here. In another part of this newspaper, a former chair of the Jewish Agency and former Knesset speaker has a suggestion. He recommends acquiring a foreign passport.