The Law of Diminishing Expectations

I admit to being emotionally drained this month. The incidents impacting on my consciousness have been coming at such a rate, that they have left me short of breath, almost apprehensive of checking my newsfeeds.

It started with the final days leading up to the mid-term elections in America. Now, I am not even American, but I follow American history and American politics passionately. I don’t know why, but somehow I feel that whatever happens in America has a profound indirect effect on my life in Israel and on the future of democracy in the Western world, both in which I am deeply invested. My feed was flooded with op-ed after op-ed, article after article, with such an intensity, that my mind felt like a sponge saturated with water, unable to ingest any more writing and information, and making me almost unable to click on yet another link, despite the provocative headline. And I admit that I often clicked anyway, fearful of missing some new, insightful nuance – and then left feeling even more exhausted. Then there were the mail bombs, and I could not drag myself away, even when he was caught.

Meanwhile, here in Israel, we had our own excitement. We had barely stopped reeling in the aftermath of the passing of the Nation State Law, and now we had to deal with yet another legislative assault on our freedom of expression and democracy. I was gearing up to write a scathing article about the Loyalty in Cult Law (sic), when a White Supremacist burst into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and sprayed its congregants with death. It was like experiencing a cognitive earthquake and the pain and empathy I felt for fellow Jews living through such terror thousands of miles away, surprised me with its intensity. So many of my friends in America braved the chilly nights and the rain to participate in vigils, and I felt helpless, vicariously looking on, like a voyeur, clicking “like” – which became the sum total of the expression of my solidarity with their shock and fears. And that felt so inadequate. The fact that this incident took place not two weeks before the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, was not lost on me, with the knowledge that at some time in our future the two dates – one on the Hebrew calendar and the other on the Gregorian calendar were eerily bound to coincide, adding further significance to these two seismic shifts in Jewish existence in the Diaspora. I abandoned the article, thinking it inappropriate to write a political critique when the Jewish world in America and Israel was in mourning.

Pittsburgh shul with wreaths of condolence

Barely three days after shiva for Pittsburgh had passed, and the Police in Israel publicized its recommendations to indict six of the major players in Israel’s submarine scandal, three of whom are or were very close to Netanyahu and worked closely with him. One, David Shimron, Adv. is not only a close relative, but also a representative of the German company, Thyssenkrup. I find it inconceivable that the two would meet in a family or social setting as they are wont to do, without the subject of the submarine deal coming up. This is bolstered by the appropriations committee suspiciously canceling the mandatory legal tender for purchase of military equipment in favor of approval of the Thyssenkrup purchases – something that could not have been decided without the Prime Minister’s knowledge and nod, meaning that he must have known something was irregular. And the timing of the forced resignation of Moshe Yaalon, then Defense Minister, who was known to oppose the deal, only adds more incredulity to the assertion that Netanyahu had no knowledge about the corrupt maneuverings surrounding the deal. Yet, the police went out of their way to publicly state that Netanyahu was not a suspect, which is strange in itself; if he was never considered a suspect, why go out of your way to publicly state that he is not a suspect?

Just as the political clouds were gathering momentum and the press was preparing to milk this for all it was worth, serendipitously for Netanyahu, a botched Special Forces raid in Gaza reignited hostilities, and over 400 rockets were fired on Israeli settlements, while the IDF retaliated with sortie after sortie. Naturally, our attention was averted away from Case 3000. How convenient, even if obviously not engineered. For three days, I was overcome with sadness and despondency. I feared a ground invasion, which would likely involve my two sons. Sleep came sparingly and my waking consciousness was dominated by all the “what if’s” that stoke your fears. Thus, my relief was tangible when illogically a cease fire was agreed upon.

Why illogical? Illogical, because this round of hostilities has left Israel with losing its deterrent edge, and elevating the threat of Hamas’s rocket arsenal once again to a strategic level. After Operation Protective Edge, where Iron Dome intercepted 90% of all rockets fired at Israeli cities and settlements, Israel was relieved that the rockets no longer posed a strategic threat, because it could be neutralized. This allowed us to make military decisions with the confidence that we could counter Hamas’s retaliation with rockets. However, this time around, Iron Dome was far less effective. Israeli cities as far as Beersheva and Ashkelon experienced direct hits on residential buildings and Israeli civilian casualties reached into one hundred, including one death and three seriously injured, fighting for their lives. It seems that in the four years following Protective Edge, Hamas has been working on finding a way to overcome the nullifying effect of Iron Dome on their rocket attacks, and we have been sitting in self-satisfied complacency, believing we had found the ultimate solution to Hamas’s rocket threats. It was clear to see that up until the cease fire, Israel had lost this round, and my belief is that Netanyahu agreed to the cease fire, because he feared further and worse casualties from the rocket fire. Now, every time Israel considers military options in reacting to Hamas, we will have to take into consideration the price our civilians will pay, and this will limit our options, preventing us taking the initiative. That is what a strategic threat does.

Iron Dome in action

Furthermore, ever since March this year and the March of Freedom to the Gaza border fence, Hamas has controlled the initiative and dictated when to fan the flames and when to douse them. And we have been sitting, reacting to whatever they decided, being pulled along by the nose, relinquishing control of the conflict. Strategically, that is a capitulation which I believe Israel cannot afford. That is why I expected for Israel to raise the stakes and send in ground troops, to regain Israel’s deterrence and to wrest back control of the parameters of the conflict. I am perhaps relieved that we did not do that, for selfish reasons, but in the long term, I think we are going to pay the price. At the same time I think this is inevitable, because when you choose not to have the additional dimension of a political—diplomatic option, you are left only with the option of the use of force – and the results are inevitably short term and limited, especially when you know that you do not have full rein to assert your military superiority. It is like having a hammer and plyers in your tool box and choosing not to use the plyers to extract the nail. All you can do, is pummel the nail as deep as possible. But, in so doing, you are only making it harder to take it out.

Exhausted and depressed from this latest round of hostilities and then Israel’s Defense minister resigns, surprising everyone. I never liked Liberman. I have always thought he was eminently unsuitable for the job. Especially having to replace arguably the best Minister of Defense Israel has had since Moshe Arens. It has a lot to do about folding blankets for your military service as opposed to being a former Chief of Staff, with 30 years of experience on matters pertaining to security, and being a decorated officer. But, what do I know, right?

However as we have come to realize in Israel, nothing is what it seems. Although Liberman cited his protest at Israel agreeing to a cease-fire as the reason for his resignation, it was soon obvious that the reason why he did this was to distance himself from Netanyahu before the next elections, and an attempt to obfuscate the failure in his leadership during the last three days. He believes that if he colors his resignation as an act of principle, he can save face come elections, which are becoming more and more likely to be brought forward. But, it is not so clear cut; the Draft Bill is about to be voted on, and Liberman cannot be seen to agree to Haredi citizens being allowed to avoid army service. This was a campaign promise to his constituents, in building his public image as “Super Patriot”. Thus, the smell of political expedience in his resignation is overwhelming.

But the ink had not yet dried on the papers reporting his resignation, and Naftali Bennett has demanded the Defense portfolio, with threats of him too leaving the government. Bennet and Liberman have been fighting cocks in the cabinet for a long time so it should not have come as a surprise that Bennett would not allow Liberman his thunder.

Bennett and Liberman. Fighting cocks.

And with one million citizens in the south bearing the brunt of incendiary balloons and rockets, and fears that someday Hamas terrorists are going to emerge from a tunnel in the heart of their homes, Israel’s government is unravelling, at a time when a clear head and responsible leadership is needed most. Instead, self-interest and political maneuvering is the order of the day.

And then, depressingly it seems like even if we had elections tomorrow, we would be stuck with the same people and essentially the same government all over again. (One would think that the spirit and desire for change which characterized the municipal elections would transcend to the national arena, but that may be too much to hope for).

This is what is called the Law of Diminishing Expectations. And I am so tired of it all. And that is what is so dangerous for our democracy.

About the Author
Paul Mirbach made aliya from South Africa to kibbutz Tuval in 1982 with a garin of Habonim members. Together they built a new kibbutz transforming rocks and mud to a green oasis in the Gallilee. He served in infantry during his army service, serving in both Lebanon and the West Bank, including on reserve duty during the first intifada. Paul still lives on Tuval with his wife and two sons.
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