In all the noise coming out of the White House and key spots in other governments, it is hard to know what is serious, and what is meant to soothe an audience of greater or lesser importance.
The latest mystery concerns a warning from Barack Obama himself against Syria''s use of chemical weapons.
The words were sufficiently imprecise to leave the President whatever wiggle room he will want, but mentioned the possibility of American military action against Syria''s use or movement of such weapons. One suspects that Obama''s concern for Syrian civilians is his greatest priority, but we can also perceive a suggestion that moving the weapons toward Hizbollah may be part of the "red line" the President said that Bashar al-Assad must not pass.
Should we applaud, express dismay, or yawn?
My own thoughts, of doubtful connection to "reality" in this fuzzy space of interpreting the amorphous, lead me to worry about an excess of American humanitarianism that directs a well-intentioned, but naive President to the wrong target.
Obama is not the first. George W. Bush set the standard when he went after Saddam Hussein in the name of humanitarianism and democracy as well as weapons of mass destruction. No one found weapons of mass destruction, and estimates of deaths in Iraq since 2003 range from several thousand allied personnel to over a million Iraqis. The carnage is continuing in Iraq as well as in the United States as discharged but damaged soldiers kill themselves and others.
One can share Barack Obama''s concern about Syria civilians who might be gassed, and see some support for Israel in his hints that the weapons should not be passed on to Hizbollah. However, he seems to be missing the major problem to us, the region, and further afield.
Israel Hayom captured it in a cartoon which showed Obama painting a solid red line in front of Assad carrying chemical weapons, and only a dotted line in front of Ahmadinejad carrying nuclear weapons.
Both my military experience and my access to current information limit my capacity to know what is happening and what may happen, but do not keep me from worrying and speculating.
My worries focus on the fuzziness of the White House''s values and its understanding of the Middle East. The danger of nuclear weapons from Iran far outweighs that of chemical weapons from Syria. One can kill by the hundreds of thousands and destroy national infrastructures, while the other may kill by the hundreds or thousands.
I am also inclined to speculate that Israel can do what is necessary to keep Syrian weapons bottled up, and out of dangerous hands just as well--if not better--than Americans. I view Israeli intentions and capacities to protect Israelis from that stuff at a far higher level than my confidence in Barack Obama''s intentions or capacities.
Other recent news--perhaps connected with the above--is that Hizbollah is training its cadres to invade and occupy the Galilee.
Is this more hyperbole from a leader who declared victory in 2006 and has been hiding underground almost all of the time since then? Or incitement ordered from Iran worried about losing its major ally in Syria and its link with the Shiites of Lebanon, and maybe even more worried about what Israel and/or the United States might do?
In all these mysteries, one is entitled to think about Israel''s ultimate deterrent. That is the weapon that Shimon Peres did as much as anyone to obtain, that Mordecai Vanunu spent 18 years in prison and continues to be denied permission to leave Israel for talking about, and which no Israeli in authority is inclined to discuss.
I will continue in the mode of speculation caused by all the fuzziness coming from Washington, Jerusalem, and other capitals, with explicit threats coming from Tehran and Hizbollah.
Recent threats and commentary have spurred Israelis to crowd the distribution points for gas masks. Friday''s headline in Yedioth Aharonoth is "Scandal in Gas Masks: 46 percent of Israelis do not have masks, and most will not have them." Next week we can expect panicked ministers demanding more money to acquire and distribute the masks.
Distant Americans and Europeans who have heard of the Holocaust should ponder the pressure on a Jewish government by survivors, their children and grandchildren. Predictions are not appropriate in this setting. However, should the chemicals start coming from Lebanon, I would expect great demands on Israeli authorities to use whatever they have against Lebanon and Iran.
Insofar as my own wee voice may not be the only one expressing these thoughts, one can hope that not all Shiites aspire to self-sacrifice, or believe that death will bring them the service of virgins.