Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Winograd Snow Job and Israeli Normality

Afternoon dusting over the Old City looks calm before the political dust-up begins in West Jerusalem.

There's a kind of hush that arrives with snowfall. In Jerusalem, the snow already transmogrified to sleet/slush twelve hours into the day and, with special effects from the occasional apocalyptical crack of thunder, it seems other-wordly, not like the muddled east we're accustomed to. From my window, over the Hinom Valley, it appears that Hell (Gahanna) literally may freeze over if this keeps up. It's all blanketed with white.

Talking about a snowball's chance in Hell, there's Olmert and the Winograd report coming up at 5pm. Will he survive? The Prime Minister is braced to be raked over the coals for not producing a victory during the last Lebanon War (or,as the conflict was referred to elsewhere, the "disporoportionate response" that still lost lives and reputations.)
Some would say the country's martial navel-gazing's a tad abnormal.

Well, Israel's abnormality, writes Mary Dejevsky in the London Independent, is changing.

Hermetic security gives the country a fortress-like quality, which is exacerbated by the almost completed barrier along the length of its eastern border. The duration of military service, for both sexes, means that you see many more people in uniform – and armed – than in most advanced countries. There is a gruff and basic efficiency that bespeaks a country still at war. And a pervasive, often irritating, sense of rightness: the past that justifies the present.

In just a couple of years, though, some of the hardest edges seem to have softened. Those young people in uniform look a little more relaxed and less stony-faced about their duty. The ubiquitous weapons are carried just a fraction more casually (which is not necessarily reassuring). There is a greater awareness of demography and neighbourhood, and at state level the response to a crisis is less paranoid. Consider this: when Gazans breached the border into Egypt in their thousands last week, Mr Olmert's response was to meet his Palestinian counterpart. It was not to rush troops to the southern frontier, nor yet to reoccupy Gaza.

Perhaps the Second Lebanon War was not the defeat it appeared. Hezbollah was driven from the border; attacks on Israel ceased. But Israel's two soldiers remained in captivity. And anything less than complete victory was a shock to Israeli confidence. Rather than uniting the country against the enemy, this war sowed division. It also prompted salutary soul-searching about whether tried and tested 20th-century methods would be as effective in the 21st. More self-doubt will greet the Winograd report when it appears.

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