In Israel, the weather trumps Iran

Locally, there was no panic button pressed after the Soleimani hit.

A MAN TRUDGES through puddles in Nahariya yesterday – Was the week’s saber-rattling between the US and Iran, with Israel in the middle, even on his mind? (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
A MAN TRUDGES through puddles in Nahariya yesterday – Was the week’s saber-rattling between the US and Iran, with Israel in the middle, even on his mind?
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Millions of people flooded the streets of Tehran on Tuesday for the funeral procession of slain Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.
Top Iranian officials called for revenge on that day, threatening a storm of missiles on US assets in the region as well as on Haifa and Tel Aviv. These threats were taken seriously around the world, amid wide concern – and even some hysteria – that US President Donald Trump’s decision to kill the arch-terrorist could send the region spiraling toward an all-out war.
As a result, Iran was the lead story on Tuesday in newspapers and on television news programs around the globe.
Except in Israel. Channel 12, the country’s most-watched nightly news show, made Iran its sixth story, a full 22 minutes into the program.
Iran was preceded by reports about the weather; Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef’s comments about Russian immigrants; the ongoing saga about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Knesset immunity request; an interview with Labor-Gesher head Amir Peretz; a quick commentary about the election campaign; a report about the sentencing of a British woman in Cyprus for wrongfully accusing 12 Israelis of rape.
While the Twittersphere was full of apocalyptic warnings about World War III on the horizon, in Israel Channel 12’s viewers had to wait a full 22 minutes into the nightly news program to hear about what was going on in Iran.
The following night, Wednesday, the night after the Iranians retaliated against the US by firing missiles against US bases in Iraq, and just hours after Trump said that the days of Iran running roughshod over the region were over, an Iran item appeared 20 minutes into Channel 12’s night news program, following extensive reporting about the stormy weather.
Neither Yediot Ahronot nor Maariv had any Iran story on its front page Thursday morning – a day after Trump’s speech and the Iranian missiles on US targets in Iraq.
WHAT ALL THAT reflects is that despite this week’s high drama – the Soleimani assassination, the speculation about retaliation, the funeral, the threats, the warnings, the Iranian missiles, the Trump speech – Israel was not gripped by panic, and the nation, including its leaders, were taking the crisis very much in stride.
America’s National Public Radio’s Daniel Esterin summed up the mood in Israel well for his American audience on Sunday in an item that dealt with global reactions to the Soleimani assassination.
“The truth is that people here are not really panicked,” he reported. “I spoke to Israelis in cafés in Tel Aviv today. They said they didn’t feel they faced any more of a threat now. And defense experts here say they bet that Iran will not strike Israel. They say Israel has thwarted attempted Iranian attacks in the past. They say Iran is rational and cautious. And in the last few years, Israel has attacked Iranian forces in Syria many times, and there’s really barely been Iranian retaliation. So Israeli experts think, you know, Iran has a lot to lose. They won’t want to risk poking Israel.”
Hence, no hysteria.
Nothing better sums up the general reaction in this country than the words of former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot during an appearance at a Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) event in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Asked whether Israel needed to be concerned, or on alert, because of the situation, Eisenkot – the head of the army from 2015 to 2019 and someone who knows quite a bit about Iran’s capabilities – projected calm.
“Since 2005, the Iranian threat has been defined as the central threat facing Israel – and I point out that this was after the years of the intifada.... For the last 15 years this has been the most significant threat. It has two key components: the first is their [Iran’s] vision to obtain nuclear weapons, and the second is their efforts for regional hegemony, and entrenchment in Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip.”
Eisenkot said that Soleimani, who led the Quds Force for more than 20 years, was an architect of Iran’s strategy against Israel. He stressed that his assassination was an American operation, that Israel would be wise to remain in the background, and that at the same time he was sure that Israel was taking all the necessary steps to protect itself.
“Israel has very advanced intelligence capabilities, it has a very advanced ability to defend itself, though never perfect, and it also has an advanced ability to give a strategic response in the event that it becomes necessary,” he said.
In other words, Israel has been preparing for Iran as the No. 1 threat for 15 years, and has the ability both to protect itself from Iranian attacks and to deliver a crushing blow if Tehran – or one of its proxies – decides to attack.
The Iranians know this, as do Israelis – which explains Eisenkot’s calm, the placement of the Iranian crisis on the nightly news, and the country generally taking in stride the recent events.
Even though there was much talk this week about how the Soleimani assassination changed the overall equation, and much speculation about what would come in its wake, the pervading sense in Jerusalem was “been there, done that.”
The millions on Iran’s streets chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel,” the burning of American and Israeli flags, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s angry rantings to his minions are all designed to strike fear in the hearts of Americans and Israelis.
But Israelis, for the most part, don’t buy into it. There was no article here, for instance, as there was in Time magazine about how to talk to your children about the attack.
“On January 3, the US military carried out a drone attack in Iraq,” Jaime Joyce, Time’s execute editor of Time for Kids, wrote, explaining the primer that appeared on the magazine’s website.
“The attack killed Qasem Soleimani, a top military leader from Iran. The action comes after increased tensions between the US and Iran, and has fueled anxiety about what might happen as a result. The situation is dominating the news, and children who hear about it are likely to have lots of questions.”
Israeli parents need no guide with talking points to explain these types of events to their children, because this country and its children have been faced with this type of dramatic news over and over again for years.
Iran’s threats do not strike fear in the hearts of Israelis or paralyze them, for a number of reasons.
First, because the country has faced bloodcurdling chants and threats many times before. It has also heard the dire predictions of a bloodbath following various events for years – following the killing of Hezbollah’s No. 2 Imad Mughniyeh in 2008, following the moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, following the bombing of Iranian assets in Syria.
But the dire predictions did not materialize, partly because the threats themselves were meant primarily to prevent certain actions – such as the move of the embassy – and also because the Israeli public has great confidence in the IDF and in its ability to keep the country secure.
The Israel Democracy Institute’s 2019 Israeli Democracy Index, released this week, found that – once again – the IDF is the most trusted institution in the country, with 90% of the country expressing trust in the army, far outdistancing every other institution, including the president (71%), the Supreme Court (55%) the police (44%), the media (36%), the government and the Knesset (30% each) and the nation’s political parties (14%).
And not only did the IDI survey show the country trusts the IDF, it shows that the people overwhelmingly (63%) believe that it can keep them safe, which is the second main reason there is no panic.
Not only have Israelis weathered these types of storms before, but they also have confidence in the IDF’s ability to deal with them and keep them secure.
Millions on the streets of Tehran chanting “Death to Israel,” as well as Iranian military officials threatening to flatten Haifa, do not rattle the country, because it has heard it all before, and because it believes in the IDF’s strong ability to adequately defend the state.
“I am confident that the necessary steps are being taken,” Eisenkot said at the JPPI event, about Israel’s readiness following the Soleimani hit.
As was evident this week by the palpable lack of panic on the nation’s streets, most of the country shares that confidence.