Where’s the Panic?

The noise in Israeli media these past few weeks about a possible Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities has been one steady, almost deafening, crescendo. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has an opinion and they’re not keeping it to themselves.The climax (so far) was the “anonymous” interview Ehud Barak gave Ha’aretz newspaper a week ago, using his famed analytical skills to paint a picture of inevitability.

Every Israeli now knows, unless he’s been living in a cave this summer, that the strike will take place around October. (If I were cynical, I would say this is typical of all government decisions taken in the summer: “after the holidays” – “אחרי החגים”). As a result, Israel can expect Iranian missiles to be launched against it, as well as sustained rocket attacks from the north (Hezbollah) and the south (Hamas). The casualty estimates are hundreds dead and thousands wounded.

So, if the picture is so clearly bleak, where is the panic? I don’t see people stocking up on food and water. There is no run on the banks and no major shift in investment patterns. Nobody I know has cancelled holidays or, come to think of it, booked trips abroad for October. There was one isolated news item about an increase in the number of people turning up to change their gas masks but the increase was not that dramatic and did not last for more than a couple of days.

I can think of a few explanations to the lack of panic among ordinary citizens:

  • The helplessness factor. The larger the threat, the less one feels there is any point in preparing for it. Fatalism as a defence mechanism.
  • The “cry wolf” syndrome. Last summer we had a similar barrage of news items about an imminent strike. Nothing happened, so why should we believe it will happen this time?
  • Bibi does not make big decisions. Unless forced to by events, he prefers the “sit and do nothing” approach.
  • Barak, on the other hand, known for his rash decisiveness. But didn’t someone already say “when you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk?”. And he’s been talking a lot.
  • Obama, disliked by many in Israel, is still viewed as mature, cool-headed uncle, who will the messianic duo in on time.

I may be completely wrong and come October find myself in the bomb shelter fumbling for my gas mask. But I hazard to guess that the likelihood of an Israeli strike in the coming months is less than 50%. I believe most Israelis have the same gut feeling, hence the lack of panic.

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