Someone once asked Frank Broyles, the celebrated football coach at Arkansas, the secret of the Razorbacks' remarkable goal-line stands. "Well," he said, "it's not so hard if you can convince your defensive line that they're backed up against the edge of a cliff, and there's a bunch of hungry alligators down there among the jagged rocks."
There's something in this bit of sports metaphor for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the loudmouth leader of Iran who vows to erase Israel from the map of the Middle East. The Israelis, who have survived by paying close attention to their situation, understand that they live at the edge of a cliff, just above jagged rocks and hungry alligators. Their fractious neighbors can continue to lose wars, paying out blood and treasure forever. If Israel loses one war, it's over for the Jewish state.
The bad news for Mr. Ahmadinejad and his like-minded followers, both in and out of Iran, is that the changing of the guard in Jerusalem, ordained by the Israeli national elections Tuesday today, won't eliminate either rocks or alligators, but neither will it change the grim determination of the Israelis to survive.
Israel won't tolerate nuclear weapons in Iran, Ehud Olmert, the outgoing prime minister, told a group of visiting Frenchmen this week in Jerusalem, and there is neither government nor opposition, merely an iron will, unanimously held. No future government, whether of left, right or center, will change this.
The Israelis have been getting a lot of advice from Europe, some of it maybe even well-meaning, that it's important not to further radicalize the Palestinians, though it's difficult to imagine how men who send their children to blow themselves up to kill a few Jews could be further radicalized.
It's important, the Israelis are told, not to damage Palestinian confidence in the "peace process," though it is difficult to see how such a process, which is to peace as Velveeta is to cheese, could be further damaged by hard men who have never kept any agreement they've made. The Israelis are told to restrain their response to rocket attacks and drive-by shootings, since, with no West Point nor Sandhurst nor even a St. Cyr to teach military tactics and instill soldierly discipline, the Palestinians must send out women and girl children to defend men cowering at home. Hamas must not be pushed to the wall, lest its "warriors" become entranced by visions of heroic slaughter of Jews.
"What we didn't hear much of during this [election campaign]," observes columnist Herb Keinon in the Jerusalem Post, "were entreaties to the Palestinians not to take action that would radicalize Israeli society, that would rob it of hope, that would push it to despair of ever reaching a peace agreement in the region. One didn't hear Western leaders and learned columnists warning the Palestinians that their unrelenting terror would have a boomerang effect on Israeli society, that it would push Israel to the wall, that it would ram to the right a generation of Israelis who grew up under the cloud of suicide bombers and Kassam rockets."
This could be a useful caution for the Palestinian radicals, of whom there are many, but there are none to take it. No surprise, then, that suicide bombers and the Kassam rockets have clenched the Israeli fist. The 22-day offensive in Gaza, though widely condemned in the soft salons of the West, is popular among the Israelis who pay the price of restraint. This has led to ever-tighter clenching.
Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be the most popular of the candidates; he makes no apology for his vow to eliminate the threat of "the Islamic bomb" before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can build one. Israeli pollsters expect Mr. Netanyahu's Likud party to run first, trailed by leftist Labor and "centrist" Kadima. But "centrist" means something altogether different in Israel than in London, Paris or the new Washington.
Tzipi Livni, 51, the leader of Kadima, promises to be "a different kind of prime minister." She would be the first female prime minister since Golda Meir three decades ago. She's different for sure. She was once an agent of Mossad, the fearsome and efficient intelligence agency, and until this week studiously avoided running as a woman, though Golda Meir's example showed that womanly does not necessarily imply weak.
"I make decisions, not coffee," she told a Tel Aviv audience of her role as foreign minister in the coalition government during the Gaza campaign.
Like her rivals at the polls today, she insists that she's ready with tough "decisions" if Hamas wants to continue making trouble.
The alligators among the rocks could sup on tasty Arabs, too.