For weeks Israelis have been greeted – almost every day – with headlines sounding the ticking clock that is measuring the minutes toward war.
Other things – for us, relative trivia, but indicative of growing global chaos – have dominated the news in the west: Occupy Wall Street; the imminent collapse of the Euro; the quest for a Republican candidate for 2012; the guilty verdict for Michael Jackson’s doctor; allegations of misconduct against Herman Cain…
All the while, here in the Middle East, we have been made freshly aware of how swiftly we could slide into a massive – even non-conventional – war against Iran and its proxies around us. We have been wondering what the coming hours and days could bring – and we wonder how long we’ll be left wondering.
Right now, even as I type these words, Israel’s leaders could be ordering a military strike on the Iranian nuclear program.
The warplanes flying high over Jerusalem could be en route to Natanz, Qom, Bushehr, Parchin.
Or they could be patrolling, on high alert against Iranian retaliation, as some other form of Israeli attack is carried out.
Then again, with Syria’s Bashar el-Assad trapped in a corner and headed for a Gaddafi-style demise, some believe it may be him who unleashes the first missile salvo against Israel. He has nothing to lose, and the ultimate Arab prize to gain: championship in the effort to erase Israel.
The temperature began climbing after October 28, when an Israeli journalist reported plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to hit the Iranian nuclear program.
Poll results published on November 3 showed that 80 percent of Israelis believed a strike on Iran would lead to war with Hamas and Hizballah.
On November 8, Barak told the press that no option was off the table in dealing with the Iranian threat. He set the anticipated Israeli casualty figures from Iranian retaliation as “low as 500.”
The mercury soared later the same day with the leaking of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report (set for official publication November 9) that Tehran has indeed been developing components for a nuclear warhead – something the Iranians have consistently denied.
On November 12 an enormous explosion killed an Iranian missile-testing chief, and Iran blamed the Israeli Mossad.
These were the headlines over the ensuing days:
* Hizballah chief warns of regional war if Iran, Syria attacked (Nov 16)
* US Defense Secretary: Iran strike will hurt world economy (Nov 17)
* Israel beware – China arms Hizballah (Nov 17)
* Iran nuclear issue is ‘deep concern’ – world powers (Nov 17)
* Israel tests ballistic missile system (Nov 17)
* Israel; time running out to stop a nuclear Iran (Nov 19)
* ‘If Assad falls, Hizballah will take Beirut’ (Nov 22)
* Blast rocks Hizballah stronghold in south Lebanon (Nov 23)
* Israel ready for war with Hizballah as if it will happen in a week: Israeli official (Nov 24)
* Iran: We’ve arrested 12 CIA spies (Nov 24)
* IDF commander: Lebanese army will fight with Hizballah against Israel in next conflict (Nov 25)
* Iran general threatens retaliation against Israel nuclear sites (Nov 25)
* Iran to hit Turkey if nuclear program targeted by Israel, US, general says (Nov 26)
* Iran, Hizballah, preparing for ‘final confrontation’ with US and allies (Nov 27)
* Egyptian turmoil may prompt Israel to strike Gaza (Nov 27)
* “Iranian parliament expels UK ambassador (Nov 28)
* Iran: We’ll fire 150,000 missiles at Israel if attacked. (Nov 28)
Nearly forgotten in this latest rush of rhetoric has been the burgeoning belligerence from Turkey, specifically from its prime minster, Recep Erdogan, who Syria this week accused of being set on restoring his country to the imagined once glorious days of the Ottoman Empire.
And in Egypt today, voting has begun in the first post-Mubarak election – which itself was launched following days of rioting in Tahrir Square during which the “Arab Spring” protestors vowed to “kill all the Jews.”
This is Israel’s neighborhood, and this is the climate we are living in.
How do we differentiate between looming and long-term danger?
On November 13, Ha’aretz ran a report quoting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying that Iran is closer to a nuclear bomb that people think. Something has to be done.
“Is Bibi serious?” This question came at me while I was guiding a busload of American believers around the Galilee. Was the Israeli leader being truthful in his expressed belief that his nation could soon be facing a nuclear-armed Iran?
If Netanyahu was being serious, then the next question follows hard on the heels of the first: How long can Israel wait, leaving it up to the international community and, particularly, the United States, to resolutely confront the Iranians?
How long DARE Israel wait?
Some of our friends are stockpiling for war. But overall here in the land there is no real sense of an imminent explosion.
As the rumors swirl around us, we pray, we watch, and we wait.
By Stan Goodenough