The latest uncertainties

 Those who took the time to click on the link in my recent note to the promotional video, Israel: Seeing is Believing, might want to balance it with  a BBC production, Israel: Facing the Future. It will take an hour of your time, but is worth it on several dimensions. 

It is as good as anything I''ve seen for displaying the variety and complexity of the Israeli experience, as well as that of Palestinians. It belies the BBC''s reputation as one of Israel''s antagonists or even enemies. It also lends itself to considerable thought, and a variety of perceptions, conclusions, and prescriptions. In this regard, it summarizes the Israeli reality. For me, it reinforces the message that Israeli Jews have succeeded, and must continue with their tolerance of multiple uncertainties, coping with domestic and international problems without apparent solutions, and avoiding dramatic actions that are likely to make things worse.
In the same spirit and with similar conclusions, there is also much to ponder in the most recent news and commentary.
The current questions are
  • What did the attacks on Syria accomplish? and 
  • What will they cost us? 
The messages from the media appear to be guided by government briefings, even while the government is officially silent about Israel''s responsibility. Everyone but Israeli authorities are saying that Israel did it.
Israeli media are making the point that Israel did it, but in a way that was designed to avoid a Syrian retaliation.
Israel targeted munitions sent from Iran to Syria and meant for transfer to Hezbollah. 
Israel has avoided talking sides in the Syrian civil war. Israelis may be as appalled as anyone else, but perhaps less shocked and surprised than others. Many were not optimistic about the unfolding of Arab spring, and--as noted in the BBC film--see in what has occurred until now as reinforcing  suspicions about our neighbors. We recognize people like those we know among the Arabs portrayed by the BBC, as people with whom we can live at peace. What is happening in Syria and elsewhere strengthens the view that our good neighbors are a minority, or too small of a contingent, and are unable or unwilling to deal with extremists.
Among the items in the news is that American officials are saying that they had no advance information about the Israeli attack, while President Barack Obama was very quick to endorse Israel''s right to defend itself by preventing munitions from reaching a terrorist group.
Believe what you will.
No less impressive than reports of a successful military strike is its implications for the quality of Israeli intelligence. We commoners will never know how Israel manages to learn where and when it ought to strike munitions destined for Hezbollah, or how Israel learns which motorcycle or auto is carrying through the crowded streets of Gaza someone on its list for liquidation. Israelis should not fool themselves into believing that the intelligence is complete or foolproof. It is impressive, and sends its warnings to those who should be warned.
Israelis also know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. 
The attack on Syria may have unpleasant consequences. To be sure, neither Syria nor Hezbollah is in an ideal position. Should they consider an attack, or encourage others to attack, they should also consider what is likely to come as a result
Recent events will also trigger yet another chorus of demands that Israel step back and give peace a chance. The BBC film pays attention to those calls, as well as the suspicions of Israelis that lead many to wait for more substantial signs of Palestinian accommodation than so far observed.
There will also be more laments from Jews and others that Israel has abandoned the ideals expressed by its founders. 
Welcome to reality. Israel is no less dynamic than other societies. It has changed. Not only has the skyline of Tel Aviv taken the place of sand dunes and rapidly built housing for refugees coming from Europe and the Middle East, but there are religious extremists among the Haredim who refuse to teach their children anything that help them earn a living, and political/religious extremists among the settlers who insist that God gave it all to us.
Along with Tel Aviv''s skyline has come surges in technology and entrepreneurialism, a lessening of government regulation and benefits paralleling what has occurred in Western Europe, a growing gap between rich and poor, and a managing of complexities not apparent in the 1940''s and 1950''s.
The conclusion of the BBC film asks about the future of Israel and the Jewish people in the context of problems that come from Jews and from the enemies of the Jews.
A reading of Josephus suggests that there is nothing new in the big picture, even though we should argue about the differences in detail between his century and ours.
The Tel Aviv skyline, along with the cultural diversity of the country and the capacity of the IDF should convince us Jews that it could be a lot worse, and lead others who would judge the country to do some of the weighing and balancing shown by BBC''s producers.