The urgent meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Presidential Palace in Ramallah two weeks ago left me with just one troubling memory. Not the trip in the dirty streets of Ramallah; Not the meal in the fancy restaurant, which portrayed business as usual; Not the conversation that gave the impression that Abbas is truly trying; Not the feeling of a quiet town, completely different than the idea that Israelis have of it. The moment that stuck in my head happened just before we reentered Israel.
After a drive through the frontier neighborhoods - Arab neighborhoods beyond the security fence that are supposedly under Israeli control - and after observing the abandoned houses that sit awaiting the Palestinian real estate revolution, we arrived at a checkpoint. On the way to be checked, our vehicle was accompanied by three approximately 10-year-old children. Ohad Hemo, our excellent correspondent in the territories and Ra'ad Ibrahim, Channel 2's great producer, spoke with them. They tried to sell us junk and we pulled out 10 shekel coins for them.
It was 10:30 p.m. and they were in the street, in between the cars, collecting change. One of them told us that he was from Hebron and said with a smile: "My grandfather was a beggar, my father was a beggar and now me."
He was not complaining, but rather explaining the situation naturally. His attitude was one of quiet acceptance. There was no hint of despair, anger or rage. Maybe it will still come. Maybe not. We drove on and he stayed behind. On the other side of the fence.
The wind is blowing. A bad, unstable, hot and toxic wind. A blinding sand storm that darkens the horizon. It is a Middle Eastern wind that erupts in gusts. It is not a typhoon or a hurricane. It does not knock down mountains, destroy houses or flood roads, but it is disturbing and does not cease. The worst part is that we have gotten used to it. It is part of the weather.
The Palestinian wind of terror that is blowing on us does not have a clear diplomatic goal. It does not have a well-formed thought or ideology behind it. It does not carry the message, "It is good to die for our land," but rather, "It is good to die, and not to live here."
Like forecasters we try to understand the direction of the wind and how it will develop. The most troubling diagnosis is that it is the result of deep despair. The Palestinians have no hope. The left-wing believes that the responsibility for bringing back their hope lies with Israel, at least partially. On the Right, the belief is that this is the sole responsibility of the Palestinians themselves. But the despair is not becoming more comfortable. It is penetrating deeper.
Wednesday's terror attack at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem set off a number of warning lights. I am not sure that it marks the transition from the lone wolf terror wave to an organized terror wave, but this group of young men came from the town of Kabatiya, planned for a month, and armed themselves with firearms and explosives. This attack was different and disturbing. Again, it turned out that the writing was on the wall. On the Facebook wall. Once again we saw that the sea of digital information surrounding us is a difficult challenge for Israeli intel and for those hunting potential terrorists.
The evil wind is blinding the Palestinians from the fact that it is leading them to a dead end, and blinding the Israelis from seeing that the solution is not only the military and use of force. We are on the defensive, entrenching ourselves in our opinion that their is no partner for an agreement, that any process is pointless, and that any compromise or risk that we take will come back to haunt us.
We are waiting for them to stop. The Palestinians, on the other hand, feel like suckers. Years of security quiet led to an impasse and to the continuation of Israeli control of Palestinian territories. In their eyes, we don't see them when they are quiet - and they are not wrong. They are making a commotion in order to drag Israel, or the world, or the Arabs into action. It is an understandable idea, but a hopeless one.
A deep change is needed. An initiative from both sides is required. The despair is a recipe for a storm. The idea that managing the conflict is better than solving it is rocking in this wind, but I'm not sure that it has crashed to the ground. That depends on the climate conditions in the region.
Israeli is fighting additional winds: Boycotts and European pressure, the sourness and frustration of the US administration, and the great wind of world appeasement blowing toward Iran, that sees it as a legitimate actor in the Middle East following the nuclear agreement. This wind stirs up a dangerous line of thought, in strategic and military terms as well.
There are some military strategy experts who were concerned to hear IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkott say that the army's main enemy at this time is Hezbollah. If this is so, what is Iran's role. Is Hezbollah not a forward division of Iran, and is the IDF making a mistake by not directing its strategic plan of action toward exacting a heavy price from Tehran in the event of a conflict, in order to deter it from activating the Shi'ite terror organization?
Eisenkot and the IDF may feel a sense of relief - they will likely not be required to attack Iran in an attempt to damage its nuclear program. It could be that this sense of relief is causing them to hope for an even bigger relief - that we will be freed from the threat of the big and frightening shadow, Iran, and we will be able to deal with the lesser shadow, Hezbollah.
Some senior officials warned that Eisenkot's possibly erroneous thinking - seeing Hezbollah as the main enemy rather than Iran, and believing that the organization is deterred, and not being prevented from acting against Israel by Iran - is of great importance. It could be that this line of thought is informing the army's list of priorities and this will have operational consequences.
The fear is that the army sees Hezbollah as an independent body, acting under its own power, whereas Iran, whose nuclear program has been stopped, will for the next five years serve merely as a theoretical enemy that is not relevant for direct military action. A senior IDF official said that it is only a matter of semantics and not conception. "Iran is Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is Iran," he said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists on emphasizing this point as well.
The explanation for the chief of staff's comments is a focus on the intermediate stage. That is, adjusting to the new strategic reality. A stage at which the volatile northern border could drag Israel and Hezbollah into an unplanned conflict that neither side wants. This wind necessitates a reevaluation.
The simple political explanation is that Eisenkot understands that focusing on the wave of terror, on Hamas and on daily challenges, is diverting attention and resources from the main threat that is building in the North. However, the fear is that focusing on Hezbollah will prevent Israel from passing the message to Iran that it will pay a heavy political, personal and strategic price for a conflict on the northern border. If this message is properly delivered, it will preserve, and even strengthen, Israel's deterrence.
Yet still, we must not wait until the day of the test to study the question of whether Hezbollah is independent enough "to disobey orders" from the big boss in Tehran. Israel must enlist the US and other world powers to help in this effort, in order to convince them that a small conflict in the North is liable to spark a messy regional storm.
Udi Segal is the diplomatic correspondent for Israel's Channel 2 News.
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