Israel Not Facing an All-out Middle East War

Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg has discovered it's one thing to successfully command Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip and something else entirely to make an appearance before cameras and microphones.

Most army officers steer clear of the media, but the head of the Israel Defense Forces' Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, found himself in the headlines on Tuesday following a public appearance at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. He created a storm of sorts over a prediction that the Arab Spring, which has seen a number of dictators overthrown or their rule challenged, could be followed by a radical "Arab Winter," which in turn could even increase the chances of all-out war in the long term. He said its most extreme scenario could include "the capacity to use weapons of mass destruction."

Eisenberg has discovered that it's one thing to successfully command Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip and something else entirely to make an appearance before cameras and microphones. Making matters worse, his talk was scheduled on a day on which the Turkish authorities decided to mete out humiliating treatment to Israeli travelers at Istanbul airport, even forcing them to strip down to their underwear.

IDF soldiers during Cast Lead (Matan Hakimi, IDF Spokesman's Office)
Matan Hakimi, IDF Spokesman's Office

Eisenberg's gloomy prediction complemented the warlike mood that some newspapers have plied so eagerly. Between the lament over the insult in Istanbul, the visit that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned at a naval commando base in an effort to boost national pride, and the report about an arson incident at a mosque in the West Bank, Eisenberg's remarks served to help create a mild sense of panic.

On the other hand, it's doubtful Eisenberg's appearance was a major disaster. He presented a situation assessment, which can and should be challenged. The speech wasn't an order for the average Israeli to quickly check their security rooms (although, in the strategic setting in which Israel finds itself, it wouldn't be a bad idea to do it periodically anyway ).

Defense Minister Ehud Barak reduced the remarks to reasonable proportions yon Tuesday when he said, "We don't see a reason for any of our adversaries to initiate a broad, general campaign against Israel at this time. I am convinced that our enemies wouldn't dare use chemical weapons against Israel. They know well why it's not worth their while even to think about it."

Eisenberg's remarks, or at least the parts that attracted media coverage, don't paint the whole picture. Intelligence officials have been speaking about a highly complex strategic reality in the region for several months. Instability in neighboring countries, which has even resulted in the downfall of three North Africa regimes, underlines the uncertainty that will prevail in the coming months. It is also understood that the current tension with Turkey doesn't enhance the general atmosphere.

When one adds the risk to some extent of an escalation with the Palestinians due to their request for recognition of statehood at the United Nations, Israel's situation does in fact become more dangerous. The distance from that to all-out war, however, is great. And neighboring armies are busier at the moment with what is going on at home than with Israel.