When I came to Israel nearly a year ago, there was intense speculation that an Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was imminent. Working inside the Jewish community in the UK, we had lots of worries about a possible strike, Iranian retaliation and the political and security ramfications. British news, Israeli news, world news were all talking as if a strike could happen any day.
One of the first questions that my friends in the UK used to ask me about moving to Israel was “How is it over there? Is everyone worried about Iran?”. And I answered, no. Nobody was talking about Iran. It wasn’t being debated or overtly worried about. The topics of the day in Israel flowed seamlessly one into the other: The social justice movement, the Gilad Shalit deal, evacuating Migron and other unathorised settlement outposts, Haredi enlistment, new elections, a new coalition, Egypt and then social justice again.
In all this time Iran never left the headlines. It was frequently the lead story on the news here. But it somehow hadn’t permeated the country’s consciousness. It was a bit like the whole population was in denial about the fact that the air-raid sirens (which every town in Israel has) could start ringing at any minute to alert us of a counter-attack, giving us just 30 seconds to get to our bomb shelters or secure rooms.
There also wasn’t really any debate about the wisdom or necessity of any strike. That was odd for two reasons. Firstly, retired senior Israeli security figures kept popping up on the news to say they thought a strike was a bad idea – the sort of thing that would normally start a public debate. Secondly, though, Israelis debate everything. All of the issues I mentioned above were and remain contentious. Was the Shalit deal a sacred trust to a soldier in captivity or was it a price so high that we should never pay it? Would forcing Haredim into military or civil service unify the country or pull it apart? But on the Iran issue, there was no real debate at street level. The Op-Eds and interviews didn’t filter down to café chats. It just wasn’t there.
In the last few weeks, that seems to have changed dramatically. Suddenly I seem to hear nothing else but Iran talk – and again I don’t mean on the TV. Cab drivers will ask my opinion on the issue, old men playing chess or cards talk about whether a strike would be successful, people chatting at Kiddush after the Shabbat synagogue service question whether Hamas would join any retaliation and what Syria would do.
I’m not sure what’s caused this. Yes, the Home Front Security has stepped up its work clearing bomb shelters and giving out gas masks (I got mine), but this has actually been ongoing for months. Maybe it just took a long time to sink in. An Iran strike is a big deal. So, of course, is a nuclear-capable Iran.
So everyone is a bit more nervous, but that’s probably to the good. And the question is being debated, and that’s probably good too. Of course, this being Israel, the debate isn’t always the most respectful or mature. But it’s a start.
I realise that I haven’t mentioned my own thoughts on an Iran strike. I’ll deal with that in another post.