Say No More

Observation of the Israeli leadership raises the suspicion that it is undergoing some sort of New Age metamorphosis, of the type recently experienced by celebs in the worlds of basketball and business.

Forget the astrologers, the interpreters of coffee grounds and the Tarot types. Anyone who wants to know what the future holds in the year ahead should watch closely the body language of Ehud Barak. The defense minister has a somewhat mystical talent for physical gestures that turn out to be part prophecy, part foreshadowing: the shoving match with Yasser Arafat at the cabin door in Camp David was prophetic of the imminent intifada; the grabbing of the microphone at the Labor Party Central Committee meeting portended his takeover of the party. And now? This time Barak was photographed with a finger to his lips in a "shushing" gesture. What was he prophesying? Only time will tell.

Indeed, observation of the Israeli leadership raises the suspicion that it is undergoing some sort of New Age metamorphosis, of the type recently experienced by celebs in the worlds of basketball and business. If in the era of Ariel Sharon our leaders discovered the magical qualities of the tantra, with the slogan "restraint is strength," now they seem to have discovered Vipassana meditation, in which strength lies in silence.

As usual, the road to enlightenment is not smooth: It had its regressions and some serious freaking out. A case in point is the Second Lebanon War, in which both restraint and silence got the boot. But this year everything was swathed in a tiresome, suppressing, fogging silence. Well, one could say we achieved deterrence with Syria: the uncertainty over "what Assad wants" is equal to the uncertainty of Israel's leaders over what they themselves want.

In fact, one feels Israel is more fearful of itself and of its reaction in the wake of a large-scale terrorist attack than of all the Syrian and Iranian armaments combined. Everyone agrees that it will be a "response to end all responses," especially ours. That is a justified fear, which is difficult to explain logically, and therefore silence is the best response. Be that as it may, if once the autumn holiday season was fraught with spiritual reckoning, with great hopes or anxieties about the future, this year everything is hazy and a bit fatalist: both the fears of a "summer war," which is tardy in arriving, and the hopes of the "peace conference in the fall." There are no expectations, no wishes. In this atmosphere of "voluntary vagueness," the the prime minister's canceling the ritual of "holiday interviews" looks like a forgone conclusion. Apparently the chief of staff's spokespeople also thought that a broad smile at a military toast to the New Year would provide a more effective "statement" than any interview. But what is that statement?

To try to understand the spirit of the times, we need to go back a generation, to the War of Attrition, when Moshe Dayan delivered his "fear not, my servant Jacob" speech to the Command and Staff College: "Jacob, do not be fearful, do not be cowardly, you are fated to live in constant struggle, and heaven forbid you fail by cowardice," he said. Many were shocked that just two years after the great victory of the Six-Day War, Dayan could say "constant struggle." Yet, in the years since then we have known wars, peace treaties, a sea of terror and unilateral withdrawals, but never has the hope for rest been abandoned, never have the wishes and the yearnings stopped: if not for a catharsis of full peace, then at least for a type of tension-relaxing settlement.

Barak's return to the Defense Ministry is more significant than it looks. He is "corresponding" in a certain sense with Dayan's period as both chief of staff and defense minister: in personal courage, spirit of adventure and pessimism. From now on, then, we are going to have many murky operations about which silence is golden, many smart-aleck tricks and thrilling stratagems, a lot of action, abductions and counter-abductions, reprisals and painful counter-reprisals. Sometimes things will be happy, at other times the opposite. But that is what "living by the sword" looks like, in case you were wondering.

And peace? As the New Age devotees and those who flock to the airport and the malls during the holidays will attest, peace is within us. Only there. And what is going on outside? Hush. Don't spoil things for us. We don't even want to know.