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Not the first time, nor likely to be the last
Wednesday was time for another trip to the Galilee. Weather forecast was good. There would be some warm and dry days after early winter rain, and the expectation was for more days of quiet from the south and not much to worry about--for us--from Syria.
 
We had a good drive, alone most of the time on the road through the Jordan Valley, then Tiberius and onto our favorite Kibbutz guest house.
 
The holiday from tension lasted until we turned on the car radio while driving to dinner in Rosh Pina.
 
Bibi was showing that he could do more than roar.
 
The naming of an operation indicated a significant escalation. It was not a pinpointed assassination, no matter how important the man sent to meet the virgins promised to Islamic martyrs. Giving the operation a name indicates that it is mid-way in the hierarchy of military seriousness. Calling something a war is of the highest seriousness, and not giving an operation a name is the sign of least seriousness.
 
The name of the operation, "Pillar of cloud," (עמוד ענן) comes from the 13th chapter of Exodus.

"By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night (13:21)"

An earlier comment by Benny Begin, that the violence had passed, may have been planted disinformation. Begin is the son of . . . , a minister in the Netanyahu government and widely viewed as one of Israel's most thoughtful politicians. His comment about a lull was one of the items that convinced Israeli commentators, and maybe Hamas activists, that the wave of violence was over.
 
The IDF has warned Gazans living near weapons to leave those locations. In congested Gaza, with numerous stockpiles of weapons and other targets, the people don't have many places to hide. Their leaders are deep under the main Gaza hospital, confident that Israel will not target that building.
 
The IDF has moved troops and heavy equipment close to Gaza, and has begun a call-up of 75,000 reserves. During our weekend on the roads, we saw tank-carriers headed south, and empty carriers going in the other direction, seemingly on the way to take another load toward Gaza.
 
As in previous wars and operations, there are reports of individuals who have not received orders showing up at the assembling points and asking to serve.
 
Listening to the radio periodically during our time in the Galilee, we heard the routines associated with a serious military operation. The popular news-talk-music station (Reshet Bet) provided constant coverage of events, interviews with citizens from southern regions expressing their fatigue and that of their families in the face of repeated waves of rocket attacks, and saying they are willing to comply with security restrictions and otherwise support the government now that the IDF--with which they closely identify--has finally been given the go-ahead to end the absurd situation of being dependent on the timing of Hamas as to when to fight and when to call a cease fire. Politicians have also been supportive, with those of the center and right more explicit in calling for continuation until Hamas is destroyed, or at least sufficiently shocked to assure quiet for an extensive period. Politicians and commentators of the left are saying that the lesson has already been taught, and it is time for Israel to signal its openness to the Egyptians or someone else to negotiate a cease fire.
 
Whenever there is a localized warning of a missile on the way, the existing conversation stops for a warning to residents of the place at risk.
 
On the Sabbath one of the radio stations broadcast quiet, except for warnings about where incoming missiles are headed. The Chief Sephardi Rabbi gave religious Jews within the range of missile fire his endorsement of tuning in to the station for the duration of the Sabbath.
 
We sought to escape the constant radio chatter in the alleys of Sefad, a path along the upper Jordan, a historic site on the Golan, and the Hula Nature Reserve where we thought about the cormorants, pelicans, turtles, muskrats, and fish in the quiet of a light wind and clear sky. We heard artillery, and asked ourselves if it came from training exercises of the IDF on the empty acres of the Golan, or if it was the sound of the nearby civil war in Syria. News of the likely entry of reserves to the southern fray brought us to talk about our son-in-law Noam, an officer in the IDF reserves, our daughter Tamar, now six months pregnant with their first child, and Noam's younger brother, who already has reported to his reserve unit. Both Noam and his older brother may be involved if things escalate further.
 
Think of those hurricanes along the east coast of the US, along with the excitement and concern of what might happen.
 
Still pending is a ground invasion. The enlisting of 75,000 reservists is an expensive undertaking with awesome implications. An extensive land operation will entail substantial losses, with heavy civilian casualties likely from the firepower associated with combat in a congested urban setting. The pictures will not be pretty, either for the families of Israel's soldiers, or for international audiences concerned about Palestinian women and children.
 
News is that just about everyone who counts is reluctant to see the onset of a ground operation. Some kind of negotiations may have begun. Among what may be the disinformation in the fog of warfare are reports of contacts and denials. Experience indicates that the piles of rubble will produce some months of relative quiet. We are living alongside religious intensity with a barbaric disregard for human life (ours and theirs) that comes with a religious justification.
 
So far Netanyahu has not blustered about his intentions and successes. That may come, but meanwhile he deserves credit for working the phones and recruiting understanding, and even support for this operation from the heads of prominent governments. They may not like him, but they listen. No one is offering a blank check, and no one should expect a solution.
 
The equation at stake includes lives and the risk of international support along with how much quiet will be obtained before the next time.
 
Call it the arithmetic of civilized warfare.
 
I have heard from overseas correspondents to the right and the left, accusing Bibi of a foolish escalation, four square in favor of peace, or demanding aggression to the point of a final solution.
 
We appreciate expressions of concern for our safety.
 
I concede the right of all to express themselves, while I'll reserve my right to pay most attention to Israelis with experience, and a stake in what happens.
 
 
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