On the eve of Yom Kippur in 1973, I ruined Menachem Begin's mood. I had accompanied my late father Yehuda to the Kol Nidre prayers in the synagogue at Mezudat Ze'ev (the Herut party headquarters) in Tel Aviv, and at the end of the service, when it was my turn to greet Begin with a "gmar hatima tova," as did all the other congregants, I told him about the "tension on the borders" and the "fear that war was near."
Begin had no idea what was happening. He raised his voice and reprimanded me, as if I were looking to sow panic: "Eitan, what's the matter with you, to say such things?"
Duly chastised, I walked home, which was on the outskirts of Ramat Gan. About 18 hours later, many IDF soldiers had already lost their lives on the Golan and in the Sinai. That dreadful war cost some 2,600 lives. My personal lesson from my sad meeting with Begin was clear: Leaders are not angels, they too make mistakes.
So what am I saying? These days, we are enjoying an economic boom. Only the sewage seeping into the sea from Eilat is slightly spoiling our mood. On the verge of autumn, we are having a great time: Traveling overseas, fancy restaurants are full, we're buying gold seats for toilets, we're reading avidly about who has NIS 4 billion (roughly a billion dollars) and – poor thing – who has only two. A large proportion of Israeli society is caught up in this frenzy of "isn't this great, isn't this great."
One does not need to be a great Israeli leader to discern what Winston Churchill would have undoubtedly called the "gathering storm", and it doesn't comprise just rain clouds. We all understand what is happening but prefer to supress our thoughts. Or, just as in that Kol Nidre night in 1973, we can't see what is happening:
The Arab and Islamic world is looking to obtain nuclear arms: The Iranians are working full out on this; Syria is trying to acquire them on the sly; Libya reached an advanced stage in its nuclear project and we knew nothing about it; Pakistan is already a nuclear power and is not, if I am not mistaken, a country that sends us flowers for Shabbat.
The world’s headache
Washington is preparing an international peace conference and, at the conference, Israel will be asked to make sweeping concessions. President George W Bush is looking for at least one success, before he becomes an oil magnate in Texas, and it looks like it will come at our expense. Let's not forget: America does not recognize the West Bank settlements, some 200,000 people. And joining the US will be many other world nations which, in the past few years, have bought into the notion that "we are the world's headache". If the Americans don't succeed in November, these countries will try in January and they won't give up.
Hamas and the other terror organizations will try to derail the peace conference. How? That's right: through terror, and lots of fatalities. And Israel will respond, vigorously.
Israel has lost, for many years now, its special moral status in the eyes of the world and, most importantly, in our own eyes. The examples of corruption on the one hand and the conclusions of the Winograd Commission on the other will hit us hard domestically.
So what can be done? One thing, and perhaps the most important of all, is to stop playing politics and thinking in terms of the zero-sum game: That a gain for Kadima is a loss for the Likud. Enough. Before "gathering storm" reaches the shore, we have to establish a government that includes all the rejected parties, and particularly the Likud.
Ehud Olmert may not need the votes of Knesset Member Benjamin Netanyahu's faction, but he needs their arms and shoulders. Only a broad front will be able to stand up to what is expected from the United States, Iran the Palestinians and others. The clouds are already making their way to the shore.
P.S. I hope my gloomy projection proves wrong. If only. But this is the way it looks today.