Under normal circumstances, the military establishment is to the right of the political establishment. The reason is obvious: The singer wants to sing, the writer wants to write, and the division commander wants to mobilize divisions. When Moshe Dayan said he would rather restrain galloping horses than prod lazy mules, he was not referring only to his generals. It is a common pattern on the world stage. Only rarely are the roles reversed for the military to find itself to be more moderate and circumspect than the political leadership. The vast majority of such cases - all of them, practically speaking, and not only in the 1930s - ended in disaster. The cause is simple: The military is not built to act as a brake on an extremist leadership over time.
Unfortunately, Israel, on the cusp of the winter of 2011, is in this rare and dangerous situation. This holds true with regard to the Palestinian Authority: The entire military establishment, including past and present leaders, recommends meeting PA President Mahmoud Abbas halfway. It recognizes the "miracle" of the past few years, with a government in the West Bank that enjoys a majority and takes firm action against terror. Israel's political establishment, in contrast, is consciously going along with the declarations of settler Avigdor Lieberman and doing all it can to hurt our moderate Palestinian partner. It knows that the only way to hold onto the settlements and their messianic world is by buttressing the extremist Palestinian leadership, with which "dialogue is impossible."
This holds, only more so, when it comes to Iran. All of the heads of the armed forces - the chief of staff, the heads of the Mossad, of Military Intelligence and of the Shin Bet security service, and the head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, both incumbent and a few generations back - are fiercely opposed to striking Iran now. But two people, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak see themselves capable of dragging the entire nation into a long war with many casualties on their own.
Last week's image of the week was Netanyahu's post-midnight meeting last Sunday with the radical-religious Shas party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, party leader and Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias. The cellphones were put away, as befits a classified meeting, and senior Netanyahu aide Natan Eshel, from the national-religious camp, was temporarily put out of his hiding place next to the library. It wasn't the nonagenarian extremist rabbi that Netanyahu had to convince of the necessity of attacking Iran now, but rather the country's top brass, serving and retired, as well as the majority of Israeli citizens and Israel's friends in the West.
People in deep denial, or without a mirror, complained about the situation in Tunisia, where a moderate Islamic party won 41 percent of the parliamentary seats and formed a coalition with liberal and leftist parties. But more than 45 percent of Israel's Knesset members hold radical-religious, messianic, antidemocratic or racist worldviews. Take the 23 combined seats of Shas, United Torah Judaism, Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union; take Yisrael Beiteinu and half of the Likud MKs, such as Danny Danon, Yariv Levin and company. And in contrast to Tunisia, there are no liberal elements in the coalition. There's a reason why Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman declared that he was working to make Jewish religious law Israeli law, and why most of the prime minister's aides are from the settlement-supporting, messianism-marred radical religious world.
Barak likes talking about the one-third of Israelis who serve in the military, work and pay taxes. That one-third now faces the missiles and Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai's forecasts of thousands of casualties. The enormous, expensive nuclear shelter that will protect all of the cabinet ministers and perhaps their families and cronies too is not an option for ordinary citizens. Neither is the protection being readied in the settlements that are not expected to be missile targets. The sites that have been spied out in central Israel as emergency mass burial grounds, in order to prevent the spread of disease, are not exactly a cheery option.
There is a slim chance that the reports raining down from on high about the possibility of an operation before the winter are just spin, aimed at putting the world in a panic. But they also get us accustomed to the idea of an attack. Even worse: It is tempting to get around the military establishment's opposition through an urgent, precipitous and biased deliberation, "at the last moment before the clouds roll in" - like the discussion with Rabbi Yosef. Meanwhile, the U.S. presence in Iraq might tempt the Israeli radical leaders to drag Washington into a war against its will, as the object of an attack. In the face of history, the forces of reason must step on the brakes.