JERUSALEM—Israelis are not accustomed to having so much going so well for their tiny country - and no one seems to expect it to last. This 62-year-old nation, after all, has never really known a prolonged stretch of peaceful prosperity; something inevitably takes a turn for the worse. Unspoken but widespread is a strange sense that the proverbial “other shoe” will drop, whether it be with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria or, worst-case, a nuclear Iran, with the only question being when.
And yet there is less fretting on the streets and in cafes, and most Israelis are living happily in this very calm, auspicious moment in Israeli history. Tomorrow will almost certainly bring some kind of strife or even calamity, but that thought in the back of most Israelis' minds isn't stopping them from fully appreciating today.
Israel today is thriving: Threats from its hostile neighbors are dormant, the military has recovered and seems to be reclaiming its past glory, suicide bombings have vanished from daily life, the economy is booming, the housing market is among the strongest in the world, and tourism is bustling.
The Jewish state, in other words, is hitting on all cylinders.
But there is an asterisk. Life in Israel can get turned upside down literally overnight. There's a famous expression here that captures this notion that you never trust too much that good times will continue: "We live like there's no tomorrow."
In the summer of 2006, Israel's economy was strong and the Palestinian terror threat was nearly eliminated—and then Hezbollah carried out a brazen cross-border raid that triggered a painful monthlong war.
After battling what was legitimately perceived as an inferior enemy essentially to a draw, Israelis were astonished at how poorly their military had performed. Because most Israelis are drafted at age 18—and stay in the reserves for two decades after mandatory service ends—the military is a core part of Israel's identity and national pride, and it is often one of the most-discussed issues in the country.
This meant that the 2006 war was deflating, and the malaise lingered for at least a year or two as Israelis struggled to come to terms with the glaring failures in their military, which everyone—including the enemies of the Jewish state—believed to be a dominant, world-class force.
Now, four years later, Hezbollah is not launching rockets into northern Israel. Hamas has largely stopped launching rockets since Operation Cast Lead ended almost two years ago, meaning southern Israel is also relatively quiet. Combined with the taming of Palestinian terror networks in the West Bank targeting central Israel—arrests and targeted killings together effectively gutted the suicide-bombing industry—all regions of Israel are enjoying safety and security.
The reality, however, is that Hamas is wasting no opportunity to rearm, and Hezbollah has restocked and recovered so much that it is stronger than it was in 2006 and closer to full control of Lebanon. And though Iran, the sponsor of both terror groups, has suffered setbacks that have significantly delayed its nuclear program, its nuclear ambitions are not deterred.
Amplifying the looming threats is that for the first time in at least a generation, Israelis do not believe they can count on the friendship of the United States. From the moment Barack Obama emerged as a legitimate presidential candidate, most Israelis have not much trusted him. That apprehension has since turned into outright distrust.
Last week was yet another potent reminder to Israelis that President Obama is no friend of the Jewish state. When he stated that Jews do not have the right to build homes in existing Jewish communities in “East Jerusalem,” Obama struck a nerve.
Immediately before the 1948 war that established the modern state of Israel, thousands of Jews in Jerusalem—a strongly majority-Jewish city already at that point—lived in what is now called East Jerusalem. Jordan forcibly expelled all Jews from the large swath of the city it captured - including the ancient Old City—in 1948.
Israelis are painfully aware of this history; Obama apparently is not.
Even though Israelis understand that Obama is weaker following Democrats' midterm election losses, they are afraid that he will succeed in forcing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into signing an "agreement" that weakens Israel and ultimately causes a resurgence of Palestinian terrorism.
Days after Obama's comments, the widely hailed "moderate" Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promised to follow in Yasser Arafat's footsteps—which everyone by now knows left blood wherever Arafat went.
Abbas also demanded that as a precondition of any peace deal, Israel must release all Palestinian prisoners, whom he reportedly called the pride of the Palestinian people. Those he lauded included rapists, mass murderers and terrorists who intentionally targeted women and children.
Israelis, of course, were not surprised. Most just shake their heads, knowing that peace talks with the Palestinians have only brought violence. But they also know they can't let pessimism consume them.
Even at the height of the so-called intifada in 2001-02—when there were as many as 50 suicide bombings per month—Israelis carried on with daily life. Today's looming threats, which are literally on all sides, almost seem mild by comparison.
So even expecting that the unexpected will happen in the near future, Israelis are busy enjoying a peaceful, prosperous present.