In Israel, a striking absence of panic

If an attack on Iran is just around the corner, the Israeli public doesn’t seem to have heard about it

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Israel Air Force F-16s, photographed last summer. (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
Israel Air Force F-16s, photographed last summer. (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — Iran, Iran, Iran. It’s been the main focus of this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference. It contributed the centerpieces to Sunday’s keynote addresses by Presidents Peres and Obama. It will doubtless dominate discussions at the White House Monday between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Doubtless, too, Netanyahu will return to the theme in his AIPAC address on Monday night.

This is not hugely surprising. The murderous, homophobic, misogynistic, rapacious, Israel-loathing regime in Tehran is closing in on the bomb, and nothing the international community has done so far has diverted the Islamic Republic from that course.

But the concentrated glare on Iran — in the wake of major American magazine articles suggesting Israel is poised to strike, and major Israeli television interviews in which the likes of Defense Minister Ehud Barak heighten that impression — seems to be creating the sense in some quarters that the Israeli assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities is not a matter of whether but of when, and that when might be just around the corner.

Certain US TV channels and newspapers have focused particularly heavily on the subject of late. NBC’s Global Energy Analyst Daniel Yergin recently explained to viewers how the tensions between Israel and Iran are already adding to oil costs, while the New York Times last week breathlessly reported that the US “sees Iran attacks as likely if Israel strikes.” Curiously finding no space to mention why Israel might feel the need to “strike” in the first place — no mention, that is, of the Iranian regime’s oft-stated desire to see the demise of the Zionist regime — the article detailed at some length the feared Iranian retaliation for this anticipated Israeli assault, in the form of “terrorist-style attacks on United States civilian and military personnel overseas.”

Against this background, it is not hard to understand why several earnest American Jewish delegates to AIPAC approached this Israeli participant on Sunday’s first day of the conference to ask, a little embarrassedly, whether it was safe to be planning a visit to Israel in the coming weeks… given the apparent imminence of conflict.

Perhaps the concerned Americans have it right. Perhaps the bombers and the fighter jets are indeed about to head out. But if war with Iran is indeed about to begin, the usually-perceptive Israeli public doesn’t seem to have picked up on it.

Our latest current affairs obsessions, back home in the Zionist regime, have included harassment, ineptitude and alleged spending irregularities in the Prime Minister’s Office, tensions with the ultra-Orthodox, the escalating mass killings in neighboring Syria and, yes, Iran’s progress towards the bomb. The subject is on our minds, but it is not dominating our national agenda to the exclusion of all or even almost all else. We’re not in a state of panic, or anything like it. If relatives or friends from the US phoned up to ask whether it was safe to visit, we’d frankly be baffled by the question.

Those carefully leaked insider intelligence tidbits that have fueled the magazine articles, and those ministerial interviews that have discussed Israel’s military options, have plainly been designed to persuade some in the US administration that Israel may be poised to strike. They’ve been designed to galvanize the international community into ratcheting up sanctions. They’ve been designed to send a “watch out” message to Iran. They have also plainly raised the level of concern among many people abroad who care deeply about Israel’s well-being.

What those leaks and interviews have not done, however, is markedly raise the level of alarm among ordinary Israelis.

And when it comes to interpreting current affairs, ordinary Israelis tend to be fairly sophisticated.

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