We still have time to recognize our failings and correct them.Perhaps the most worrying sense of a most worrying year was that of helplessness: that the people in charge didn’t quite know what they were doing and that we were all suffering the consequences.
Love or loathe him, Ariel Sharon was a figure who inspired confidence. As they had when they followed him into battle, people here believed in him.
He changed course more often than other politicians would have been forgiven for doing: alienating the Left by invading Lebanon in 1982, the Right by disengaging from Gaza a generation later and many across the spectrum as a consequence of the welter of corruption allegations that swirled around him.
The policies on which he was running for a third term as prime minister were inherently contradictory: He was going to finalize Israel’s borders. He didn’t think there was anyone on the Palestinian side with whom he could seriously negotiate such a permanent state of affairs. But neither, he said, was he going to act unilaterally.
That didn’t add up, but the public was going to reelect him anyway, evidently persuaded that, when push came to shove, Sharon would know better than his leadership rivals which path to follow.
The men forced by Sharon’s ill health to fill his shoes radiate no such aura of capability. Their stewardship of the summer’s war demonstrated glaring inadequacies. The combination of a prime minister with limited security experience, a defense minister with next-to-none, an ex-air force commander as chief of staff and an absence of the necessary political-military forums in which the most basic principles of action would be debated added up to a recipe for failure.
There are those who have defined the fallout from the war with Hizbullah in soccer terms. Israel turned in a performance worthy of a “yellow card” – a warning that our conduct was falling below acceptable standards. But our inadequacies were not “red card” aberrations – we were not being banished from the field. We still had time to recognize our failings and correct them.
It is to be fervently hoped that the innumerable committees of inquiry, the headline-making ones and the smaller ones that have focused on narrower aspects of our security apparatus, are indeed affecting the rethinks and the reforms so urgently needed.
The resilience of the Israeli public is not in doubt. The wisdom and acumen of its leadership? That’s something else entirely. And the challenges – grappling with the Palestinians, thwarting Iran, alleviating domestic inequalities – are only mounting.
I chanced upon an Israeli cabinet minister on Sunday, 11 or so hours before the end of 2006, and asked him what he would wish of his own government in the coming year. That we should stop frightening our own people, he said, and make sure that it’s our enemies who are worrying about us.
There are worse things to wish for in 2007.
(Reprinted with permission from The Jerusalem Post(