Illustration by Eran Wolkowski
Illustration by Eran Wolkowski.
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The binoculars

Not long ago, a large-scale army exercise was held that achieved its goals: The prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff were photographed at the height of the maneuvers observing them through binoculars. That’s it.

You may well ask: What goals? To have your picture taken looking through binoculars? What about “preparedness”? “Deterrence”? Training of forces? Well, they certainly have their place. But you can’t photograph “readiness,” “deterrence,” etc. However, when a very senior figure − chief of staff and above − has his photo taken looking through binoculars, the purpose of the exercise is achieved: to inform us that the House of Israel has a watchman. The PM or the defense minister sees what he sees, and likes what he sees, and comes out strengthened. The preparedness and the deterrence, the bravery and the sacrifice, are reflected in the pupils of his eyes, from where they are transmitted via receptors to the brain and create − at least for those who view the photograph − a “sense of security” ‏(in contrast to security itself‏).

But what do they see there, through the binoculars? The truth is: nothing. By the time the PM or the defense minister adjust the lenses to the tank zooming across the horizon, the tank is no longer there. And even if it looks 50 meters closer − what of it? No one actually knows how it all fits into the general tapestry of the forces, and how that general tapestry blends into the broad policy picture, which is in any case never seen.

What we have, then, is a prop, a stage accessory. When the senior guy is about to visit the exercise, fine – red-eye binoculars are prepared for him, including one for backup or for another senior. The exercise reaches its peak when tactical and strategic coordination is achieved between the moment the senior holds up the binoculars to his eyes and the moment when the court photographer takes the picture.

In the army, as in the theater, embarrassing hitches sometimes occur, which expose the bluff and destroy the suspension of disbelief: a gilded marble drops off the king’s scepter, a wig is jolted out of place. Waves of laughter greeted the supposed fiasco in which Defense Minister Amir Peretz was photographed looking through binoculars without having removed the lens caps. As if he could see anything wonderful even without lens caps. Certainly not the next unnecessary war.

But the Israel Defense Forces is capable of learning lessons. These days, no one goes to an exercise without checking and double-checking that the lens caps have been removed. The dynamic duo of Barak and Netanyahu observed part of the IDF exercise held at Shizafon, in the far south. The former took the trouble to tell the latter: “This time the binoculars are open.” The latter gave a characteristic response: “I always pay attention to these things.” So we got the duo watching with lens caps perfectly removed and dangling and twisting merrily at the end of a shoelace.

Since then, the people of Israel have slept soundly, blithely ignoring the fact that our most shortsighted leaders insist on looking through binoculars. Let’s not beat around the bush, but recall that Golda was also photographed with binoculars.

Ministerial attendance at funerals

Occasionally, when a famous personality goes the way of all flesh, a buzz sweeps through the mourners even before the grave has been covered: “Not one cabinet minister came to the funeral.”

This accusation does not refer to a specific governmental personality. Maybe the opposite, in fact: the yearning for a ministerial presence is driven mainly by nostalgia, for the days when “the greats” were considered people of stature and not a riffraff who happened to enter the government as though it were a hospital elevator. Indeed, if a flesh-and-blood representative of the present government were to turn up at a funeral − assuming that anyone recognizes him or her − there is no doubt that the buzz would become even more embittered: “What does this lowlife want here?” And, “The deceased would turn over in his grave if knew that this or that MK came here.” Not to mention the rapid pulses of the ministers themselves, who in the present violent atmosphere might get hit over the head with a spade.

No. The yearning is not for any particular minister, but for some sort of amorphous presence of a state agent that will cast importance on both the deceased and those who are escorting him on his final path. In other words, people want the wrapping. It’s time, then, to fill with substance Churchill’s quip, “An empty car pulled up at Downing Street and Clement Attlee got out.” This we can do by establishing a “state representation unit,” a kind of mobile group with all the trappings of power − a government car with curtains and a flashing blue lamp atop, with two jacketed bodyguards with protruding earpieces − but without the minister himself. Much money could be saved in the future, too, if the SRU were sent not only to funerals and other events but also to cabinet meetings.

The president dropped in to say hello

The White House, with its rotating presidents, is by now very familiar with this Israeli fetish and reserves it only for special emergency occasions, as though it were a marvelous box of chocolates. It’s the sweetest moment of all, when an Israeli representative arrives for talks with senior members of the administration, and suddenly − is it possible? can it be? − rub your eyes or you’ll be blinded by the light: “The president himself dropped in to say hello.”

There is nothing more delicious. It’s an encounter of the third kind, after which you are no longer the person you were: something remains in the eyes, in the consciousness. For all time.

The latest Israeli to undergo this heavenly experience was a fellow by the name of Shaul Mofaz, who styled himself “the next prime minister” and as such, or at least as his deputy for a few days, somehow found himself at the White House, and there ... it happened to him.

It could happen to Netanyahu, too, if he withdraws from all the territories and lends a serious hand to the establishment of a Palestinian state. In that case, the U.S. president will not only drop in to say hello − he will even stay a minute or two.