WASHINGTON -- Fifty-nine years ago this week, David Ben-Gurion spoke into a radio microphone and declared, "We hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, to be called Israel." Almost immediately thereafter, President Harry Truman signed a directive ordering that "The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel," -- making ours the first country to acknowledge the new nation.
At its founding on May 14, 1948, the tiny Jewish state, about the size of New Jersey, had a population of less than 850,000, and was surrounded by enemies intent on its obliteration. Today, 6.4 million people call Israel home, and it remains the only functioning democratic government in the neighborhood. As it was in the beginning, and is now, powerful opponents in the region remain committed to annihilating what they describe as "the Zionist entity." Unfortunately, some of those hostile neighbors may soon acquire the means of achieving their goal.
In the United States, Independence Day is a national holiday -- a day of relaxation, a time for picnics, concerts, parades and fireworks. Not so in Israel, where Independence Day is a time for heightened alert -- and an annual military exercise -- just in case a threatening neighbor decides it's a good time to attack. Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization that operates under the protection of the United Nations, commemorated the 59th anniversary of the founding of the first Jewish state in 2,000 years by firing eight rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot. The missiles landed on a school building, injuring 17 civilians, including women and children.
But according to friends with whom I worked for years in counter-terrorism, a handful of Katusha rockets from Gaza or the West Bank are the least of Israel's concerns at the moment. My Israeli sources say that this year's annual defense exercise focused on "the threat of Syrian military units joining Iranian-supported Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon in a major offensive against Israel."
Israeli newspapers confirm this information. The Jerusalem Post reports that this year's exercise was intended to test Israeli Defense Forces' "performance and interaction in a war game simulating an all-out regional war." On Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, both targets of intense criticism for failures in planning and decision-making during last summer's campaign against Hezbollah, participated actively in the annual exercise. This is the first time senior political figures have been directly engaged in such a drill.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.