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Israel Today: Living in a National Crisis

Jerusalem Journal*

Posted: July 17, 2006

Jerusalem ... The evening radio news ends and then the announcer says in his very deep baritone, the kind military captains take on before battle. "If you hear sirens, take cover in your (concrete) reinforced room. If you are driving, stop, get out and run to the nearest stairwell."

My wife telephones me, the summer camp for our kids was supposed to take them to Superland, an amusement park south of Tel Aviv. But the Home Front Command has instructed the public to avoid areas where there are no bomb shelters. So they will take the train to Jerusalem and take in a movie at the mall closer to home instead.

Such is the dichotomy that we Israelis have been living. The country must look totally surreal. On one hand, the beaches are full, teeming with vacationers and beautiful people. Or they are totally empty, from Haifa northward, where Hezbollah rockets have been landing.

The country is in the midst of a national crisis, but it is unlike all the others I have witnessed, starting as a teenager with the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

There is the enormous sense of pulling together. People from the center of the country have been opening their homes to the many hundreds of thousands of residents of the north who have been streaming southward, away from the Katyushas. Kibbutzim and villages are hosting summer camps. The television stations are helping by providing hotlines to make the matchmaking smoother.

Usually, in this country of mass opinions, there are few areas of consensus. This unprovoked attack by Hezbollah, however, has met with almost total support for the Government to allow the IDF to do whatever is necessary to rid the threat from the north. And the public has backed up this support with a steadfastness and resolve to take the hits on its homes and country by the Iranian-supplied rockets from Lebanon.  Nearly everyone is urging Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government to withstand international pressures and not to quit before the job is done.

Monday evening, Olmert praised the Israeli public's resilience. Speaking from the Knesset, he recalled a phone call he made as then-Mayor of Jerusalem on September 11, 2001 to then-New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to encourage him. "He told me," Olmert said. "If New Yorkers stand up to this like you Jerusalemites do, then we will win the war."  Olmert continued, "Israel will not accept living under missile threat to its citizens. We will not be hostage to anyone."

While there is national consensus on what needs to be done, every Israeli is having the same conversation and asking the same questions - how long will this last? Where will it lead?

The action is the widest the Israeli Air Force has carried out in over two decades, sometimes with over 100 aircraft in the air at the same time. The Syrian army is on alert. Reinforcements are streaming northward from the West Bank.  Israel's best forces are being assembled along the Lebanese border. The ongoing campaign down in the Gaza Strip has lost its proportionality, considering that a little more than two brigades are now deployed there, compared to the two divisions in the north.

Reserve units were instructed to be prepared for emergency call up.  What has to be watched is the type of forces the IDF actually does call for emergency mobilization. For the moment, the division being called up is one whose role would be to fight deep penetration action, as well as relieve standing brigades currently deployed across from the Syrians on the Golan Heights so they could be thrust into Lebanon.  If the other divisions which have been put on alert are called up, their specialties indicate that there is a serious chance of war erupting with the Syrians. So far, these divisions have remained only on alert.

The army is speaking of a campaign that will last all summer. But in the past, these types of military campaign usually don't go on for more than three or four weeks. If Israel is able to contain the conflict against Hezbollah, then it could be seriously toned down, even with a ceasefire, within two weeks.

Or it could lead to an open conflict with Syria, something neither side wants and is trying to avoid.

* By Arieh O'Sullivan, Director of Communications at ADL's Israel Office in Jerusalem.

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Past edition of Jerusalem Journal:
Israel's Gaza Operation: Holding Hamas Accountable

Crisis in the Middle East: Frequently Asked Questions
Background: Attacks on Israel's Northern and Southern Borders

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