Post Script: Not as terrible as you think

There is poor leadership here. That’s true. But between that and the end of the Third Temple... relax!

Moshe Dayan 311 (photo credit: Karl H. Schumacher; White House photo)
Moshe Dayan 311
(photo credit: Karl H. Schumacher; White House photo)
So why have I agreed to write this column for The Jerusalem Post? Several reasons: How could anyone with views like mine resist the offer of the right-hand top corner of the back page and now, for ever after, be able to say when accosted for being a liberal, softy: “But what do you want of me? I’m even to the right of Caroline Glick!”
Another is that writing this column is a journalistic closing of a circle for me. I started my career at the Post when it was still the first paper the late King Hussein was said to have read at breakfast, and when the editorial column for that day was often brought freshly typed from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Now, if he reads it at all, one supposes King Abdullah does so on the Net, and Israel’s prime minister does not have control over the Post’s editorial, but has his very own paper. Now, after wars and peace, the building of settlements and the destruction of those in Gaza, great political leaders who have come and gone, some to be judged harshly in retrospect, others to be more appreciated with hindsight, it’s back to the paper that has covered it all.
This column is being published on the eve of Yom Kippur. As in 1973, it falls on a Saturday. I remember well, indelibly, a special briefing a small group of defense correspondents, me included, with the then-head of military intelligence, Eli Zeira, to inform us that a war with Egypt was expected to break out that night. He was peeling almonds taken from a small dish and covered with ice water, at the time.
The day before he had berated us, the military correspondents, for “creating panic,” by reporting that massive Egyptian troop movements were taking place, when “those who need to know, knew this was but an Egyptian military exercise.”
Now, a day later, he was telling us a war was about to break out “that evening.”
The briefing had started at 1. At three minutes to 2 an aide knocked on the door and urgently whispered in the general’s ear just as he was about to pop another peeled almond.
“This meeting is over,” he said, and rushed out the room to the military command bunker, the “Bor,” deep down and many tons of concrete under where we were sitting, to try and salvage Israel from destruction. War had broken out simultaneously on two fronts, Israel had lost intelligence assets and territory on the Golan in a flash and Egyptian forces were streaming over the Canal, easily tramping over the skeleton Israeli crews, almost all reservists, who had been sent to the front lines for the holidays so the youngsters could be with their families.
Moshe Dayan, the legendary defense minister, at one point that afternoon when things looked absolutely dire, was heard to say that he feared “for the destruction of the Third Temple,” meaning the newborn, or re-born, Jewish state.
I recount this not out of nostalgia or of the need to be current, but because having very recently returned from a book tour to the US and Canada, I was struck by how pessimistic people seemed to be about Israel.
True, the Palestinian quest for recognition at the UN was dominating the headlines, and the Turks were threatening to send the next lot of ruffians over on a flotilla to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza protected by Turkish warships, but things have been worse.
Egypt is in disarray and it was not great seeing our embassy sacked, but our diplomats are back in Cairo, albeit hiding in the basement, and no matter what regime comes in to replace the nasty, heartless, corrupt, double-dealing, brutal regime in Damascus it will be better for Israel than the one that is fighting for its life now, Bashar Assad being the main conduit of arms and money to Hezbollah in Lebanon and to anti-American forces in Iraq.
The reason for the pessimism about Israel’s future has a lot to do with dislike for the Israeli government and the way it handles things, such as trying to fight the Palestinians over recognition of the two-state solution on the 1967 borders with modifications which Israel itself has endorsed in principle, or just to apologize to the Turks who we all know are pride driven, and get on with trying to repair an important strategic relationship at a time of turmoil and re-definition in the Middle East.
But nothing justifies the pessimism of the question in Newsweek recently, in a headline on an essay by Benny Morris, asking “Is Israel Over?”
Or the pessimism expressed by Tom Friedman in The New York Times, whose views I deeply respect, saying that he never remembers Israel being more isolated and strategically threatened, a message that also resonated in The Times and all the other media I read and heard.
There is poor leadership here. That’s true. But between that and the end of the Third Temple... relax!
The writer’s most recent book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, was published simultaneously in the US by PublicAffairs and in Canada by McClelland & Stewart last month and is now available in Israel.