Tel Aviv Diary: Hovering Between Heaven and Hell

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Israeli soldiers stand next to smoke from a fire caused by a rocket attack in northern Israel, near the Lebanese border, August 20. Rockets that struck a northern Israeli village near the Lebanese border on Thursday, causing no casualties, were launched from the Syrian Golan Heights, the Israeli army said. Israelis live their lives believing in a promising future, the author writes, but that does not stop them from always fearing a much more dangerous outcome. Reuters

Late this afternoon, sirens went off and four rockets landed in Northern Israel. They were fired from Syria.

There were no injuries and, other than a small fire that was started, no damage. The rockets were fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, from New Quneitra, one of the last places on the Golan Heights still held by the Syrian Army. Israel has responded this evening with airstrikes in the area.

This morning a worrisome news alert appeared on my phone this morning: “Israel has deployed an Iron Dome Battery in Ashdod (the major port city directly to the South of Tel Aviv) for fear that rocket fire might resume from Gaza.”

One explanation for this military move could be based on concerns that if the hunger-striking Palestinian prisoner dies (and whose release was ordered yesterday by the Supreme Court), Hamas in Gaza may respond by firing missiles at Israel, thereby triggering a new round of fighting.

Of course, there are other reasons Hamas might decide to resume firing missiles, including their fear of imminent loss of control over the Gaza Strip to other radical groups.

Whatever the rationale, the readying of Iron Dome batteries is a reminder to all of us that the peace and quiet we enjoyed this summer can end at any time. Unfortunately, most Israelis need no reminder of how fragile our peace and quiet can be.

For those who are living or serving in the West Bank, that peace and quiet has been interrupted four times in the past few days, with what have been called “lone wolf” attacks—i.e. attacks that are seemingly not coordinated and not credited to any organization. These attacks have largely been thwarted and usually result in the wounding or death of the attacker.

The very real concern is that these attacks could spread geographically to other parts of Israel at any time. This is not taking place in a vacuum.

Differing Perceptions of Israel's Reality

Over the past few weeks, the international news has continued to be dominated by the argument over approval of the agreement between the Iran and the P+5 over nuclear weapons.

Observers wonder why such an overwhelming majority of Israelis support the seemingly quixotic efforts of the Israeli government to derail the agreement. They question why Israel, a “mini-superpower,” with the strongest army in the region—employing by far the most advanced technology and enjoying a strong economy—continues to pursue such a course.

I must point out that Israelis do not perceive their reality in the same way as do international observers. The majority of Israelis see a small country, with enemies (and perhaps a few lukewarm friends) at each of its borders. Israelis view once-stable if not friendly neighboring regimes being replaced by entities rife with instability, chaos and death—on a scale not seen since World War II.

While the West has been preoccupied with Iran, ISIS has been expanding its reach, slowly conquering more of Syria, and now appears to be gaining a foothold in Libya, having captured the port city of Serte. As ISIS has grown, the West and parts of the Arab world have responded primarily with condemnatory words and a rather ineffectual bombing campaign, reminiscent of U.S. bombing efforts in the 1960s to defeat the Viet Cong.  

Sitting in Tel Aviv, an observer can look in every direction and see multiple construction cranes building dozens of high-rise apartment complexes and a growing assortment of skyscrapers. Tel Aviv appears to be the epitome of economic strength and growth.

But if one’s gaze extends somewhat further, the hills of the West Bank loom in the distance, along the horizon, appearing deceptively peaceful. To the northeast (a mere 100 miles from Tel Aviv) swathes of Syria are controlled by ISIS. And, to the south, a mere 40 miles distant from bustling Tel Aviv, lies the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas—and further on, the Sinai Desert, where ISIS has been waging a battle against the Egyptian army.

When the average resident of Tel Aviv looks to the future, he or she sees two very different possible stories unfolding. One tells of a Tel Aviv as a world-renowned center for global research and development—an international city, served by nonstop flights from Tokyo, Beijing and Los Angeles, where East-meets-West and and where Israelis are on the cutting edge of every technological advance.

Alternatively, Tel Aviv residents can easily envision the possibility of Israel facing a Sunni world largely controlled by a fanatical fundamental Islamist group (currently known as ISIS) whose forces may soon stand at all of Israel’s borders. Adding to this more disquieting scenario, there is a very good chance that Iran will soon be armed with a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons.  

Which future is more likely to come to pass? I must believe in the first one, otherwise I could not be living in Tel Aviv with most of my children. Yet I (and, I believe, most Israelis) cannot get the more apocalyptic image out of my head.

Israelis live their lives believing in a promising future, but that does not stop them from always fearing a much more dangerous outcome.

Multimedia historian Marc Schulman blogs at http://www.multieducator.net