So, are you happy there in Israel, I was asked this week by a relative. Depends where you look, I answered; at the airports crammed full of families going abroad, or at the thousands crowded together in the terrible heat, sweating for hours in long lines to receive gas masks. As a foreign reporter put it, "You have a bipolar country. On the one hand you're scared to death, and on the other you're living it up." This was said in one of the hundreds of bars and restaurants in Jaffa filled nightly by thousands of revelers. Yes, that's how it is. In the morning we position the Iron Dome in the country's north, and in the evening we party.
You'd be hard put to find a middle-aged Israeli that hasn't lived through seven or eight wars and intifadas. And if he himself came out unscathed, he lives from one memorial day to the next. Unlike the United States, where there is one memorial day a year for the fallen of all the wars, mostly a day off for shopping, here almost every day is memorial day. There's the state's Memorial Day, the brigade's Memorial Day, the unit's Memorial Day, Memorial Day for the Fallen of Israel's Wars whose Burying Place is Unknown, the Holocaust Memorial Day. To these we should add the fast days: the Fast of Gedaliah, commemorating Gedaliah, son of Ahikam, leader of the surviving remnant of Jews in Judea; the Tenth of Tevet, the first day of the siege of Jerusalem; the Fast of Esther, commemorating Haman's decrees; the Seventeenth of Tammuz, commemorating the breach of Jerusalem's walls; and the Ninth of Av, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Not to mention the High Holy Days, the Days of Judgment and the Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
The changing moods of the country's leaders over the years have transported us all from good to bad, and vice versa. The Six-Day War was preceded by a difficult waiting period after the closing of the Straits of Tiran by Egypt and the movement of its army into the Sinai desert. The panicky leadership of those days called up many reservists who spent months on desert hills under a blazing sun. The heads of the ruling faction in Egypt threatened over radio stations throughout the world that they would send all the Israelis back to their countries of origin, and the ones who wouldn't leave, they would slaughter. As Haaretz's Paris correspondent at the time, I cried together with the tens of thousands of Jewish demonstrators shedding tears around the Israeli embassy. We couldn't believe, and the world couldn't believe, that within seven days - and although De Gaulle had warned us, "Don't shoot the first bullet" – that Israel would win the war at dawn by destroying almost the entire Egyptian air force on the ground. Oh yes, and it also occupied the "territories" without knowing what a long-lasting agony it was getting itself into.
The intoxication, the sense that we were invincible, disappeared in the Yom Kippur fiasco. The people, who had celebrated no less than their leaders, sought to even the score with them. Justifiably so. Moshe Dayan himself, the defense idol, was so shocked that he defined what was happening as the "destruction of the Third Temple." But between the "destruction of the Temple" headed by Dayan and the "encirclement of the Third Army," only three weeks passed. It was that maneuver that led, eventually, to the peace agreement with Egypt at Camp David. There were plenty of "ups and downs" between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War.
The peace that many predicted would not hold is still holding fast, with Egypt in chaos but still the most formidable country in the region as far as America is concerned. For the Americans, it is important that not only Israel but also Egypt join the war against radical Islam.
We can't say we're not an intelligent people, but we have a tendency to be smart alecks. Israel, which invented the "bang and it's over" routine, which isn't always for the best, wanted America to attack Syria, but also supported refraining from attack. Is it really in Israel's interest for Assad to fall and be replaced by Hezbollah and Al-Qaida? Who knows, perhaps the agreement to be reached will apply to Iran and liberate us from the paranoia that everyone wants to destroy us.
Even Bibi has let go of his belligerent tone. He is beginning to understand how important it is to be an oasis of stability in one of the more complex and dangerous regions in the world. How does one of our leaders put it? Hats off!