Tel Aviv Dispatch: It was only a matter of time

Tel Aviv just heard its second air raid siren in twenty years -- or at least the second sounded for non-ceremonial purposes. People on the streets fled into building lobbies and shopping arcades and waited, and then a boom was heard, almost a relief, as people paused, looked around and then drifted out of their ad hoc shelters. It took only a few minutes for normal life to resume.


In Tel Aviv, we''d heard about the rocket threat, the scourge of terror, the PTSD, the disruption and the sleeplessness of the southern communities under rocket attack for years. But as if in another country, we thought, "There, not here. Them, not us." It was a natural reaction, a defense mechanism to keep us believing that the status quo is good enough, even in a time and place where war, terror and bloody attacks are an intermittent part of life.


But we should have known better. We watched passively as the terror networks in Gaza, as well as the proxy-government in Lebanon, amassed not just more rockets, but more sophisticated ones. We never demanded solutions, we never called out for a coherent, cohesive strategy.


Our fellow citizens in the south did -- they called out in vain at first for a solution, and then for assistance, and then for just a minimal redress -- psychologists for populations traumatized by the threat, economic assistance to keep their factories and companies open, and rocket-proofed playgrounds so their children could continue to play outside. We did not demand these things for them.


Israel is again under fire. But not just from Gaza. In its first ounce of reporting, one American newspaper, the New York Times, labeled this country''s targeted killing of a ruthless terror leader in response to a volley of more than 120 rockets, as "ferocious." A prominent New York-based gossip blog took it upon itself to engage in biblical exegesis to explain how the name of the operation, Pillar of Defense, was a reference to our God-obsessed penchant for Jewish vengeance.


But whatever may be the commentary, and whatever may the right or the wrong of Tel Aviv''s current outcry in the wake of years of un-protested attacks on the south, one thing is clear -- which is that this is a game-changer.


Among some, though really among the left (both here and abroad), the facile wag-the-dog cliché has been marched out as a political counter-strike against Israel. Israel only attacks, we are told, when its cynical leaders face tough elections. In some cases, this may have been true, but like all gross distortions it makes the particular universal. It is in this sense an analog to racism, and in some cases is racism itself.


But it also ignores the political quotient in Gaza, where a cowed Hamas has been emboldened by the rise of its ideological forefathers in Egypt. Fatah, the Western favorite, has been sidelined. Abbas'' headlines, which last week were ringing in this country, have all but been forgotten. The watchword now is Hamas, Hamas, Hamas.


But Hamas'' efforts might be backfiring. The world is very slowly seeing the realities of what''s been called "Pallywood"--the phenomenon of "wounded" Palestinians under Israeli fire (or under faked Israeli fire, in some cases) being scooped up, one man to each limb, and rushed to a waiting Red Cross ambulance where, in addition to the medics, a crew of local cameramen stand by to catch the glory of the casualty. Strangely, and often suddenly, the same casualty is seen a few frames later walking the same street quite comfortably.


The world is also seeing rocket factories and warehouses placed close to schools and mosques, not in spite of the presence of innocents, but because of them. We wonder if those communities reject being made into human shields, but are powerless to stop it, or if, like in scenes from Pallywood, they eagerly play their part in the plot. In either case, while electioneering cynicism might be an accusation in Israel, in Gaza it''s an absolute certainty that the Palestinian government there is working hard to put its people in harm''s way.


The IDF has also changed its media tactics, announcing the operation on Twitter and releasing video of the first strike on arch-terrorist Ahmed Jabri on the web. This could stand to turn the notion of "IDF propaganda" on its head. After all, you''re seeing it all there, almost in real-time, in living color. The IDF is open about its intentions: kill bad guys. Surely, this resonates with people around the world whose own military apparatuses -- Britain, America, France, Russia -- have set out to do the very same thing, in many cases, with the exact same tactics (and collaterals).


Does this mean that this operation, or this war, if it becomes one, will be decisive? No. It almost certainly will not be. There are no more decisive victories any more. It''s not a snake whose head we can "cut off," as some Israeli politicians have announced to the media. Hamas, and Islamist terror at large, is a colony of terror, whose appendages might be cut off but always re-grow with time.


Where does that leave us? Living life. The minutes after the siren this afternoon, people were grocery shopping, walking home and finishing their work. Outsiders are surprised by this, maybe even a little disturbed by it. But it''s one of the great qualities of this people--not that they''re brave or brazen, but that they value normalcy over heroics. That for them the goal is actually not winning, but moving on.


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