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article imageOp-Ed: Are Israeli citizens preparing for war? Special

By Darren Weir     Aug 5, 2012 in World
Just a few months ago you could attend a party in Tel Aviv and politics and war were subjects that just never came up. They were considered taboo, "why do you want to bring down the party by talking about war?"
But times are changing and as Israel and the US step up the rhetoric to launch an attack against Iran over its nuclear program, people appear to getting a bit more nervous.
It started out slowly, you would hear someone throw out a comment about the war, expected to come in August, often there would be some nervous laughter and that would be it. But it seems the issue is now gaining momentum.
I attended a small dinner party over the weekend and for the first time since I arrived in Israel over a year ago, the threat of war was a major topic of discussion. People joked about getting their documents in order to leave the country at the first sign of trouble. Those who hold dual passports bragged that they would have some place to go. But when I called them out on their comments, most people back-peddled and said they were only joking and have no intention of leaving Israel if war breaks out. "I am strong and Israel is my country. I won't leave," said one woman. But she did admit that if her partner or her adult children get scared, she will look for a way out.
I asked what the general feeling is right now among people across Israel. The consensus of those at the party, is that those people who can afford to leave the country are getting prepared but for the general population it's just a matter of digging in and being prepared for whatever comes.
Israelis are used to war. Anyone who has lived in the country for any any length of time has experienced some trouble. There, of course, is the constant barrage of missiles fired from Gaza. But that is seen more as an inconvenience than a serious threat.
The last big war was in 2006 against Lebanon and at that time rockets rained down across Northern Israel and reaching towns just north of Tel Aviv.
The last time Tel Aviv residents had to face attack was when Scud missiles were fired by Iraq during the Gulf War in the early 90's. At that time Israelis were armed with gas masks to protect them from the threat of chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein had vowed to use against his enemies.
Just about everyone you talk to, who lived in Tel Aviv at that time, has their own stories to tell about the war. There is a touch of bravado as they speak about staying strong, some refusing to even enter the bomb shelters or wearing their gas mask, accepting their fate.
But today with the threat of Syria's chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands during the current unrest in that country, The Times of Israel reports there has been a run on gas masks at distribution centres across Israel. The centres, located in shopping malls and post offices have handed out 4.2 million gas mask kits so far but Haaretz reports that 47% of the population is still without a gas mask. Haaretz also quotes government sources saying only 30 percent of Israelis have a reinforced room in their homes and almost 25% have either no shelter at home or nearby. So the Home Front Command says in that case Israelis should head for the most secure space in their homes and seal it on their own. That usually brings out chuckles from Israelis who compare it to the American program in the 1950's to teach children to hide under their school desks in the event of a nuclear attack. But Home Front chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Zvi Tessler says, "There are those who view brown adhesive tape cynically, but it saves lives. In many cases, it's the difference between life and death."
Israelis have also heard the government predictions about casualties in a conflict with Iran and possibly Syria. Haaretz reports Defense Ministry experts estimate that in a war against Iran and Hezbollah, an estimated 200 Israeli civilians will die. If Syria joins the fight, the number could rise to 300 fatalities. Last year Defense Minister Ehud Barak predicted "far fewer than 500 [Israeli civilians] would die." The military forecasts are based on the number of missiles and rockets in Iran and Syria combined with data from previous wars as well as Israel's preparedness.
So while most Israeli's are not planning to flee to a safe haven in some far off country, they are starting to think about the possibility of war and are quietly making preparations. Many won't admit it though, afraid they would be seen as weak by their compatriots. Few in Israel want to see another war but most people also say they don't want to see one of their biggest enemies get hold of a nuclear bomb that could wipe the country off the face of the earth.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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