Analysis: Has the bubble burst?

In past wars, Tel Avivians were accused of living “in a bubble.”

Ehud Barak at Gaza security evaluation 370 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
Ehud Barak at Gaza security evaluation 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
During the last two wars, Tel Avivians were accused of acting like they were “in a bubble,” far removed from the heightened state of alert a mere hour’s drive away.
This time, they could not ignore the loud sirens that cautioned them to seek shelter.
Even though no rocket actually hit the city, there is no doubt that the siren and the two subsequent booms served as a wake-up call for even the most disconnected.
Click for full JPost coverage
Click for full JPost coverage
The attacks on the center of the country did not surprise Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was well aware of Hamas’s capabilities.
But he, too, was served notice of his vulnerability.
The Smith Research poll published in The Jerusalem Post found that his Likud’s joint list with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party would win 38 seats in the January 22 election, 16 more than any other party, if the vote were to be held now. The poll predicted that Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Independence Party would pass the 2-percent electoral threshold and enter the Knesset, regardless of whether or not former prime minister Ehud Olmert makes a political comeback.
If all goes well with Operation Pillar of Defense, those numbers could rise even higher. In the most recent election in 2009, both Kadima and Yisrael Beytenu were boosted by Operation Cast Lead, which provided what is known internationally as a “rally around the flag effect.” That same effect helped then-US president George W. Bush reach record popularity ratings at the start of the now much-maligned war in Iraq. But just like that war went in the wrong direction, so could the current operation in the Gaza Strip.
A rocket launched at Tel Aviv and – God forbid – scoring a direct hit and causing serious casualties could cause Netanyahu and Barak significant political damage. An unwanted regional escalation could have a similar effect.
Only the most cynical people suggested that Netanyahu and Barak went to war for political reasons. The timing was related to the escalation in rocket fire from Gaza, and if any election affected the retaliation’s timing, it was the American presidential race, before which Netanyahu dared not undertake a serious military operation.
So the upcoming election did not cause the operation, but the operation’s impact on the vote cannot be denied. A campaign that had focused on Labor’s strong suit of socioeconomic issues will now be waged solely on security, a week after Labor’s top security figure, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uri Sagi, was banished from the party over decades-old allegations of sexual harassment.
If the operation goes well, Netanyahu and Barak will surely benefit. But if something goes wrong, much of the public could decide to go in a different direction.
The risk taken by Netanyahu in embarking on the operation in the Gaza Strip is magnified by the fact that the verdict on whether the operation succeeded will be largely decided by the Hebrew press, which is more anti-Netanyahu than ever.
The sirens that marred Tel Aviv’s night life Thursday proved there is no bubble, and that no one in Israel is immune to the potentially devastating effect of a properly aimed missile.
That includes even the most popular prime minister, whose bubble could be pierced and burst at any time.