You, Us and the Next War

The ease with which the cabinet and the General Staff drag the country into war, or in any case, instill an atmosphere of siege, is worrisome.

The biggest failure of the Yom Kippur War was not drafting the reserves at the signs of approaching attack. The leaders of those days were afraid to put the country into a mood that it was on the verge of war, especially after a prediction of the outbreak of battles, which had been placed on their desks just a few months before, had not come true. The working assumption was that a constant threat was hanging over Israel, and the way to deal with it was deterrence and not by continuous drafting of the reserves, which by its nature does not allow civilian life to proceed normally.

In contrast to the caution exercised by the heads of state 33 years ago (which turned out to be a fatal mistake), our present leaders have been stirring up the winds of war from the moment the last war in Lebanon ended. Whereas the decision-makers of October '73 preferred to increase readiness on the northern and the southern fronts without placing the whole country in an atmosphere of war, Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz have been beating the war drums in the streets as if it is at our very gates. Immediately after the cease-fire went into effect in August, officers in the Israel Defense Forces expressed the opinion that within a few months there would be another violent round with Hezbollah. The bellicose declarations of Bashar Assad and Nabih Beri, together with the aggressive statements of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stimulated the war glands of a few of the leaders in Jerusalem. The prime minister declared that Syria understands Israel's strategic ability, which would be put into operation when "we remove the limitations we placed on ourselves in southern Lebanon"; the General Staff held a series of discussions that in November concluded that Syria and Hezbollah might start a war against Israel in the summer of 2007; this prediction has been translated into a training and procurement program. The combative mood in the IDF and practical preparations that proceed from it have become public knowledge over the past three days, not to say they have received official approval, in a series of conflicting evaluations announced to the public that the country was on the path leading to another war.

The ease with which the cabinet and the General Staff drag the country into war, or in any case, instill an atmosphere of siege, is worrisome. Only five months ago, they brought military calamity on the country, and again they are uttering battle cries. As if a declaration of a state of military emergency is an everyday thing, part of their normal repertoire.

After all, the military option should be dealt with extremely carefully, and with the upmost restraint. Moreover, throwing the country into a verge-of-war dynamic has a very high moral and economic price and one in image. It is not at all certain it is worth it.

It is not clear whether the voices of war emanating from the government complex in Jerusalem and the General Staff tower in Tel Aviv are tactical maneuvers only, or whether they reflect a practical plan of action. The conflicting evaluations presented at the beginning of the week by representatives of the intelligence community, on the one hand, and senior officers in the Northern Command, on the other, do not boost public trust in its leaders. The clarifications issued by the prime minister and the defense minister further fogged up the field of vision, as Olmert's statements this week do not exactly dovetail with his warnings in September, and Peretz this week is the same Peretz who lost his credibility in July and August.

What is more, how is the public supposed to differentiate the IDF's new evaluations that derive from the lessons of the recent Lebanon war from maneuvers or calculated statements mainly intended to attain diplomatic goals (for example, deterrence), economic goals (increasing the defense budget) or even personal goals (self-preservation)?

In practice, the soldiers are already training (the reserves, too) for the war in the north; the person in the street does not know whether this is an unassailable necessity or just an expression of the tendency to easily put a finger on the trigger. He or she may also wonder whether this conception might not lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.