In the Land of Big Talkers

False images and lies used to be the culture of Arab societies and regimes; it is troubling to recognize how this syndrome has also spread among us.

Israel's macho culture was exposed in recent days as a phony: Excited ministers demanded that the defense minister order the immediate assassination of Hassan Nasrallah - as if such an operation depends only on his desires; Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak spoke high and mighty about the government's ability to pressure the residents of the Gaza Strip and their leadership, to the point of raising white flags - as if Israel is not affected by world opinion; a "patriotism survey," prepared for the Herzliya Conference, showed that citizens living in the North and in the area bordering the Gaza Strip have a higher than average readiness to protect the motherland - while in practice their ability to deal with the Katyusha and Qassam rocket barrages does not reflect an extraordinary capacity to resist.

The gap between the declarations and conduct in practice cuts across all segments of society: At the end of the Second Lebanon War, the prime minister boasted that he was able to move about freely among the capitals of the world while Hezbollah's leader had to hide in his own country - and last week Nasrallah proved that he too can appear in public.

During the war the prime minister declared that he assumed the supreme responsibility for its conduct and for its results - and now he says that he does not intend to answer for the failures of the war.

On Monday, Olmert and Barak expressed their determination to keep up the pressure on the residents of the Gaza Strip, in response to the rocket and mortar attacks against neighboring Jewish communities - and by evening they had ordered an easing of the blockade and allowed the transfer of fuel and medicine to the Palestinians.

It is fair to assume that the prime minister and the defense minister both foresaw that the closing of the crossings to essential goods destined for the Strip would result in an international outcry and pressure, and still they were not deterred from giving the impression that they were determined to stick with it until Hamas stopped the rocketing - but only 12 hours passed before supplies began to flow again into the besieged territory.

Even when the circumstances that justified the latter decision are taken into account - a kind of effort to achieve de facto calm on the basis of a unilateral Israeli gesture of goodwill - it does not match the public stance, which called for an aggressive approach.

The Israeli verbal bravado is not characteristic of politicians alone. To a certain extent, they are authentic representatives of the general public. When 75 percent of the residents of the North and of the areas bordering the Gaza Strip declare that they are "very" willing to defend the homeland, and another 21 percent say that they are willing to do the same "to some degree," they are expressing a clearly patriotic attitude, which distinguishes them favorably from the residents of central Israel (where 69 percent are "very" willing to fight and 23 percent are "somewhat" willing).

This willingness for excessive sacrifice expressed by residents of the periphery can be understood as part of a particularly strong solidarity that develops as a result of the shared security threat they are experiencing; it can also be seen as a denial response to the fear (which was expressed through mass exodus during the war) the security hardships have brought upon these communities; and it can also be described as part of a general Israeli characteristic: pretending, posing.

The likelihood that the latter is the correct interpretation of the results of the patriotism survey is reinforced when we remember the Israel Democracy Index, published by the Israel Democracy Institute six months ago. The results showed a high level of declared willingness to join the army during war, but a clearly declining willingness to pay more taxes to fund an increased defense budget.

Moreover, in contrast to the declared views, reality shows that draft dodging is on the rise, and there is less interest among young inductees in joining combat units. Reluctance to sacrifice is also evident in the demand of civilians that the Israel Defense Forces avoid operations that endanger the lives of soldiers.

When Israel launches a sophisticated spy satellite into space and fires an advanced ballistic missile skyward, it lets these operations speak for themselves. When it faces terrorist organizations, it senses the limits to its power, and this frustration leads it to exaggerated outbursts.

The entire society, and certainly its leaders, reveal a contradiction when one compares their declared positions and their behavior in practice. One of the serious consequences of this situation are false images and lies. This used to be the culture of Arab societies and regimes; it is troubling to recognize how this syndrome has also spread among us.