In 1996, Ehud Barak, who was then Israel’s foreign minister and would later serve as prime minister, characterized Israel as “a modern and prosperous villa in the middle of the jungle.” Twenty years later, as political turmoil and violence engulf the Middle East, that harsh metaphor captures better than ever the way most Israelis see their country and its place in the region. Their standard of living has never been higher. Their country’s economy is robust, and Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit remains the envy of the world. In 2015, Israel ranked as the planet’s fifth-happiest country on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index, topped only by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Switzerland. In its first half century of existence, Israeli soldiers fought a war virtually every decade against well-armed conventional Arab armies. Today, the threat of such a war has vastly diminished, and the Israeli military has never been stronger, both in absolute terms and relative to its neighbors.
Now, however, it is Israeli civilians, not soldiers, who are the primary targets of Israel’s enemies. They are vulnerable to rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza and by Hezbollah from Lebanon, which have killed over 100 Israelis since 2004. And in the past year, new forms of violence have emerged, as Palestinians have targeted Israelis in over 150 seemingly uncoordinated stabbings and more than 50 attacks in which drivers have intentionally rammed pedestrians with their cars. Israel’s citizens feel more vulnerable in a personal sense, walking their streets, than they have since perhaps the 1948 War of Independence. Even during the second intifada, the Palestinian revolt that lasted from 2000 until 2005 and claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Israeli civilians, Jews believed they knew where it was safe to go and where it wasn’t. That’s not true today: in a recent poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, nearly 70 percent of Israeli Jews surveyed said they greatly or moderately feared that they or people close to them