In a speech before the Knesset, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu compared himself to David ben Gurion, who declared Israel''s independence in 1948 against the urging of foreign governments, and to Menachem Begin, who decided to attack the Iraqi nuclear facility in 1981, against the advice of the United States. To continue the theme, Netanyahu said that the risks of not attacking Iran''s nuclear facilities were greater than the risks of attacking. He praised Israel''s alliance with the United States but said Israel''s ability and right to defend itself was of primary importance.
Several commentators have interpreted those remarks to indicate that a majority of the relevant governmental forum supports an attack, with or without the prior consent or support of the United States, and that the probability of an Israeli attack has increased since the Prime Minister''s return from Washington. The aggregate of the commentary is ambivalent as to whether Israel can rely on Barack Obama. Some say yes. Some are not so sure.
There are reports were that the United States asked Russia to convey to Iran that it was facing its last chance to cooperate with international efforts to solve the issue diplomatically. If Iran did not cooperate, the United States would attack. Later we heard that Barack Obama met with British Prime Minister David Cameron, and announced that there is still time for diplomacy.
Public opinion will not resolve this issue. However, the latest polls are showing that Americans are more supportive of an attack, either by Israel or by their own forces, than are Israelis. Fifty percent of Israelis would not attack Iran, even if diplomatic efforts fail. Forty-three percent would support a strike. Sixty-two percent of Americans would support Israel''s attack if there was evidence that Iran was building nuclear weapons; 56 percent of Americans would support US military action even if it led to higher gasoline prices, while 39 percent opposed such an attack.
Perhaps Americans are more warlike than Israelis, feel safer from a retaliation because they are beyond the reach of Iranian missiles and aircraft, or buy into Republican campaign rhetoric that the United States must stand by Israel in its time of peril.
Meanwhile, the cease fire with Gaza remains fragile. As on previous occasions, there is no cease fire formally, insofar as Hamas will not agree to formalize anything with the Zionist occupier, and Israel will not agree to formalize anything with terrorists. However, there is something called an understanding that was brokered by Egypt.
Both Hamas and Israelis look on Egypt as a doubtful partner. However, Egypt is potentially important enough to both so that neither will risk offending whoever is currently in control. If Egypt can arrange something that lets Israelis in the south of the country go back to work and school, without a concern to be a minute or less from a shelter (depending on how close they are to Gaza), it is well worth showing respect for whatever Egypt can do.
There are even signs that the Muslim Brotherhood is willing to get along with Egypt''s problematic neighbors if it comes to real power. Here, too, the United States is helpful with its aid to Egypt, and occasional threats about the future of that aid.
Two missiles headed toward Beer Sheva early Wednesday evening, perhaps timed for Israel''s prime time news programs. One landed in an empty field, and one encountered Israel''s anti-missile missile. In response, the air force attacked a number of targets in Gaza. This was the second round of attacks and counter-attacks since the start of the cease fire. In neither case, did Israel attack prominent facilities or cause significant casualties.
Beer Sheva and some other communities in the south cancelled classes again in primary and secondary schools, after opening them for a day after the onset of the cease fire.
The same prime time news that coincided with missiles aimed at Beer Sheva also reported that the Gazan factions that led the escalation were declaring victory. They have 20 or so new martyrs to proclaim their bravery, and brought the economy of southern Israel to a stand still. They are warning that they have missiles in their stockpile that can reach even further into Israel.
Missiles continue to come sporadically. IDF personnel say this is routine. The current view is that escalation is not worth the price. The army will give them a few more days, and expect them to peter out.
It''s not a call that is entirely welcome. Residents and local officials from the south say that the government and army have abandoned them, and should strike Gaza with a mighty fist.
The occasional missile, and Israel''s modest response has the look of a ritual dance, meant to flex one''s muscles, but to keep the tensions within an acceptable range.
Describe it as you wish.
- A chronic problem for Israel that can be dealt with but not solved.
- The price that a non-Muslim society must pay if it wishes to survive in the Middle East.
- Israeli restraint is in response to Jewish values, and/or meant to preserve Israel''s status in the community of western democracies, along with its economic, political, and cultural connections.
- Israeli realization that it can put up with the annoyance and tensions associated with Arab fanatics, knowing that it has overwhelming power whose threat and occasional use minimizes the probabilities of serious damage.
Iran may be something else. Nobody''s sure.
Now there is what may be the first report of an attack on Jerusalem''s light rail. An Arab stabbed a female soldier, in what is described as mostly likely a "nationalist incident." He fled. The police are looking for him.
Until now, the light rail, with stops in Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, has been a successful experiment in mutual accommodation. There have been reports of minor confrontations, but also reports of pleasant conversations across the Jewish-Arab divide. My own experiences have been positive. Pessimists have said, "Wait until the first suicide bomber." This stabbing isn''t that, but it may be something.
It ain''t fun, but it keeps us alert, and it''s how we live.