A little over a year ago I made the decision to move to Israel. I had many reasons both personal and professional but after four intense years in the Marine Corps including two deployments to Afghanistan, one of my main goals was to enjoy some peace and quiet.
I know this sounds to many people like either a joke or just incredible naïveté – you wanted serenity and you chose the Middle East? – but I’d been here many times and I knew that despite the screaming headlines and the rough edges, daily life in Israel can be a truly relaxing and gratifying experience.
And so it has proven to be over the eight months since I arrived. The beaches, the nightlife, the natural and manmade beauty, the friends and family – all these have provided exactly the enjoyment and peace of mind I’d hoped for. Wherever one lives it is wise to remain vigilant, but in general I walk around free of stress or any sense of personal danger.
Naturally this is only because Israel’s children stand post at every border on my behalf. This is Israel after all, an oasis of modernity surrounded by forces that can only be described as medieval and barbaric. As I write, a Western attack on Syria – and a possible retaliation against Israel – seem slightly less imminent than a few days ago. An unsettling silence has fallen here as we prepare to celebrate the Jewish New Year and mark the 40th anniversary of Israel’s Pearl Harbor. But once again I sense the subtle shadow of a vague hovering threat. We all do.
Once a year, Marines line up and walk into a gas chamber where we practice employing our gas masks in a haze of tear gas. It is not a pleasant experience and one of my happier moments was when I turned in my mask at the end of my active duty service last year. This morning, however, I found myself trying on my Israeli-issued mask, just to ensure that my training was applicable on this particular model.
Most pundits rate the odds of an unconventional attack on Israel as very low at the moment, and I rate my own need to actually use my mask at essentially zero. But I am a firm believer in preparation and judging by the droves of Israelis flocking to gas mask distribution centers in recent days, I’m not the only one.
Look, this is the Middle East. I knew the peace and quiet I’d found here was a lull between inevitable storms. I thought the winds when they next came would blow in from Iran and in a sense they are via their clients in Syria and Hezbollah. But I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. I was hoping for at least one full year of quiet here in Israel before I would once again find myself in a war.
Perhaps I – and all Israelis – will still get our wish for peace, for a temporary extension of the lull. But as I travel north to see family during the High Holidays, at the bottom of my pack, nestled between my swim trunks and my anxiety, I’ll be carrying my gas mask.