Tapping into the national mood in Israel
JERUSALEM - You hear the word 'hazak' here an awful lot at the moment. It means strong in Hebrew. It features in Benjamin Netanyahu's slogans, in roadside placards and one of the smaller parties contesting these elections has even called itself "Strong Israel".
Conventional wisdom has it that this word plays well after the Gaza offensive because it taps into a national mood: that Israel's bombardment of the Palestinian territory showed the value of strength in dealings with the Arabs. We put up with Hamas rockets for eight years, runs the Israeli popular narrative, and now at last we've done something that's got the Palestinians' attention.
I wonder though how far people who use the word 'strong' so much are not actually those who at some level sense their own weakness. The notion, repeated by many in the centre ground here too that the Gaza operation restored Israel's "deterrent capability", after it was damaged by the 2006 Lebanon War is, to my mind, more an expression of hope than fact.
In the first place, few Israelis - of right or left - think that Hamas has fired its last rocket from Gaza or become any more reconciled to the presence of a Jewish state here. Any advantage gained by January's killing, then, is temporary. In the second it is clear to anyone who knows this part of the world that battering Hamas in the confines of the Gaza strip should not give Israelis any particular confidence that they would do any better against Hezbollah if the 2006 Lebanon campaign was re-run now. The Shiite militant movement is a far more competent, better armed adversary and its position in Lebanon allows it a strategic depth, as well as freedom to import weapons that no Palestinian group could match.
Looking beyond Israel's immediate borders, the strategic situation seems no better now than it was before the Gaza operation. Indeed it can be argued that is has worsened. Barack Obama's White House cannot be relied upon to look the other way quite as often as George Bush's one did. Iran meanwhile is closer to possessing the nuclear weapon.
The possibility of Iran getting the bomb touches Israeli insecurities so deeply that one would be foolish to rule out the possibility of a military strike against those nuclear facilities. My own analysis is that Israel acting on its own lacks the capability to do serious, lasting, damage to the Iranian program. But in a situation where people feel the need to demonstrate their strength so often, it is quite possible that an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities could be one consequence of this election.