There are few places in Israel more serene and relaxing than the spa hotel atop Mount Carmel. As I sit here on the terrace taking in the spectacular view toward Haifa bay, the silence is shattered by the thunderclap of F16s echoing through the mountainside. When this disturbance recurs hourly, some find it slightly unnerving. To me it is so very reassuring.
In the aftermath of this year’s Lebanon War, when the reality of Hizbullah’s threat as a lethal Iranian-trained and equipped force sunk in, the government of Israel immediately swung into action. “Defense” became the buzzword; the number one priority.
Sadly it was not defense of the state, but of a few selfish individuals. Chief of Staff Halutz was defending himself from being fired or forced out by the generals. Defense Minister Peretz was defending himself from a party coup as head of Labor and positioning himself for the next primaries. Deputy Prime Minister Peres was defending himself from corruption proceedings in the last Labor primary and positioning himself as next president to replace Moshe Katsav who, in turn, was defending himself against allegations of rape and wiretapping. Justice minister Ramon was defending himself on sexual harassment charges while Knesset Defense Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi was defending himself from charges of fraud, breach of trust, election bribery, false testimony and perjury.
But none was busier with defense than the prime minister. Ehud Olmert set about limiting the scope and powers of an enquiry to defend himself from the possibility of facing prosecution. At the same time he was defending himself from allegations of election fraud through a suspect real estate deal, charges of unlawful political appointments and a bank share scandal.
So what about the defense of the nation? Was anyone minding the shop?
Fortunately, those outside the government do live in the real world. By this I mean the ordinary citizens of Israel and the IDF officers who are drawn from their families. They have little doubt that they will again be at war, and in a very short time. They accept the reality that this will not merely be a second round with Hizbullah in the North, but also in the Gaza we surrendered to Hamas, whose fighters are now armed with thousands of rockets smuggled through the Philadelphi checkpoint we surrendered to Egypt.
Moreover, the ordinary people seem to accept the high probability that Israel’s performance in Lebanon and the weakness of its leadership will encourage Syria to “have a go” and put its own Iranian training and equipment to the test. This will be no cakewalk.
So yes, I am very reassured by the sound of air force maneuvers, and I pray that we shall have restocked our weapons and ammunition in good time for the next round on those three fronts. And “pray” is the right word in the clear absence of any earthly leadership.
As I write these lines, much of the cabinet and their hangers-on are hobnobbing at the UJC conference in Los Angeles, at some fantastic cost in logistics and all the security paraphernalia that goes with such trips. While they pontificate half a world away, this morning’s Kassam strike kills a Sderot housewife outright and blows the legs off a young security guard.
More than just watching their own backs and enjoying the perks of office, the officials of this government don’t seem to have a policy for anything. Not for Hamas and their Kassams, not for Egypt and the rampant arms smuggling that goes on under its nose. Kadima’s platform of surrendering Judea and Samaria has been shattered by Nasrallah. The religious Shas party supports a government whose attorney general was prepared to defy police warnings and allow an abomination to be paraded in the Holy City. And the government’s other supporting prop, the Gil pensioners’ party, seems content to watch all this government profligacy go unchecked while new soup kitchens seem to open daily.
It’s getting chilly up here, so I venture inside for a hot cup of one of the spa’s exotic teas. I pick up a newspaper and read an absurd story of an “art” exhibition that has opened in the Welsh city of Cardiff. This gallery has nothing but bare walls. The 40-year old artist, Simon Pope, explains that the aim is to encourage people to walk through the empty rooms and conjure up memories of other exhibits and galleries they remember.