During U.S. President Barack Obama's speech Saturday night, senior Israel Defense Forces officers were at a situation assessment meeting at army headquarters in Tel Aviv. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and many senior officers spent most of Friday and Saturday in intense discussions and visiting various units -- on the Golan Heights, Air Force squadrons, Arrow and Iron Dome batteries and intelligence bases -- to make sure that all were alert and ready for the decisive moment.
Several of the officers believed that an American attack would begin Saturday night, others believed it would happen a day later, but upon hearing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's aggressive speech two days ago (and after receiving clear messages from the Americans over the past few days), not one of them had any doubt that an attack would come soon.
As the cliché goes -- the greater the expectations, the bigger the disappointment.
As the dust began to settle somewhat, the questions began popping up. Some were trivial: Will there eventually be an actual attack and what will it look like, and what if Congress doesn't give the green light? What will happen until such an attack, in Syria and in the international arena, and will Obama succeed in building a significant coalition that can support him in a military campaign, or will his detractors manage to foil those efforts?
Then there are the more disconcerting questions: If the proven use of chemical weapons (for the 14th time in less than half a year) has not prodded the world into taking action, what will? And if Obama needs to beg for approval from Congress for a minor attack, what will happen if he wants to attack, let's say, Iran's nuclear facilities?
The most painful question of all is: If, heaven forbid, we in Israel were to be attacked with chemical weapons by Syria or another enemy, can we really be sure that the United States will stand by our side, or by Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which have also received American pledges of eternal loyalty?
All these questions must now be faced by America, which in one weekend was the most moral and determined nation in the world (John Kerry), and also the most wavering (Obama). Officially, Israel will surely refrain from openly criticizing the administration in Washington, so as to avoid being perceived as interfering in domestic U.S. matters and politics, but last night it was hard to miss the cynicism over Obama's assertion that targets in Syria would remain viable, certainly when the stated goal of any attack is to punish the Syrian regime but not topple it.
Until Washington decides, meanwhile, Israel will need to focus on maintaining deterrence. The concern now is that Syria, or other elements on its behalf, will try to create a provocation to redirect attention elsewhere. We can expect the IDF to stay on high alert along all fronts, likely throughout the Rosh Hashana holiday and beyond.