Amir Oren
Haaretz (Opinion)
August 16, 2011 - 12:00am

Newly born Israel arose while suffering a surprise blow. On the morning of May 15, 1948, Egypt's air force dared attack Israel's sleepy air force at Sde Dov. Sometimes, however, the surprised is the one that pulls a surprise. During the Six Day War it was one way, during the Yom Kippur War it was another.

In fact, during the 1973 war, Israel surprised itself, because the events deviated from its fundamental security concept, which is based on a fear of bad surprises. This view is founded on intelligence alerts and a rapid transition from the routine of a small regular army to the mobilization of reserve units. The idea is that the one who "comes to kill you" is the one who gets killed when he arrives; for example, when King Hussein moved a tank brigade west of the Jordan River, or the flow of Egyptian tank units to the Sinai Peninsula.

In view of the importance of the element of surprise in Israeli strategic thinking, a strange surprise has taken shape in recent weeks. Sweeping alerts, which sound like public invitations to a duel, have been received with yawning disinterest. For reasons of his own, the teacher informs his students that "there will be a surprise quiz tomorrow," and the pupils are apathetic and do nothing with this valuable information. The Palestinians announce that on September 20 they will obtain the UN General Assembly's consent to establish an independent state, and Israel curls up on its summer sofa - everyone inside his tent or next to the air conditioner, especially the person named Benjamin Netanyahu.

In the case of that old surprise, the 1973 war, the story's protagonist, Anwar Sadat, warned in every public and secret outlet that war was on the horizon. His warnings were recorded but not understood; the steps that had to be taken in line with these warnings were too taxing for Israel's political leaders, so the warnings were never digested.

This time, the speaker is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is buoyed by international support and popular demonstrations. And he's warning about violence and even about resigning, which would plunge the West Bank into political chaos. His hands on the helm, Netanyahu is speeding straight ahead; he is standing up straight and completely still, ignoring warnings about falling into the abyss. Another 40 days and he will be thrust out of this comfort zone.

U.S. President Barack Obama will not save Netanyahu; Obama's opening positions become more flexible the closer we come to a deal. A creative diplomatic maneuver at the last moment could stave off a bad outcome, but since politicians hate to make decisions, lest they anger their opponents (and their supporters would also find reasons to oppose decisions ), Netanyahu is adopting the tried-and-tested Israeli method: the hell with strategy and long live tactics.

The prime minister is allowing the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet security service and the police to devise a "comprehensive operational plan: the prevention and control of disorderly disturbances and terror acts, with a minimum of gains notched by the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs in the realm of public consciousness, while encouraging early intelligence gathering and preparation at expected points of confrontation, using a large deployment of trained forces, all for the purpose of guarding the sovereignty of the state, its laws and public order."

This densely worded statement would leave any news presenter breathless. And there, alongside Netanyahu, is Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whose resume sounds like a Frank Sinatra song. At 20 he received his first decoration from the IDF chief of staff, at 30 he commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, at 40 he became a major general, at 50 he was chief of staff, at 60 he was prime minister.

And heading toward 70, he has plummeted from these heights and plays the role of Netanyahu's hapless assistant. This is a person who ardently hopes the state comptroller's report on Boaz Harpaz - in a controversy surrounding the selection of the latest chief of staff - will crucify former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. But Barak doesn't find in the comptroller's scathing report on the Carmel Forest fire any reason to distance himself from Netanyahu.

This is a moment that warrants an aggressive stance by the opposition. The opposition should enlist enough MKs to convene a no-confidence vote, dissolve the Knesset, hold early elections and put new political, security, economic and social issues on the agenda. In 1999, the crisis with the Palestinians was deferred until a new government was formed, one without Netanyahu. This surprise quiz can be deferred to a makeup date, one when we might have the correct answers.


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