Friday, September 14, 2007

The driverless state

Sarah Honig

Israel has pulled off something far more imagination-defying - a driverless state. Not many realize how many of the hi-tech innovations they take for granted in their daily lives - including the bulk of new-fangled cellphone gizmos - originated in the much-maligned Jewish state. Fewer yet realize the enormous strides little Israel has made in quite another challenging sphere.
The next revolutionary technological breakthrough, futurists predict, will be the driverless (or autonomous) vehicle - an ultra-intricate variant of the aircraft autopilot concept. Besides constituting an immense lifestyle upheaval, it would demand an incredibly complex artificial-intelligence solution to a whole slew of likely problems.
Yet while scientists worldwide rack their overworked brains to develop piecemeal mechanisms, Israel has pulled off something far more imagination-defying - a driverless state.
This first in the annals of mankind is already operational, off and running, while the clueless clientele appears unaware of any change. Much as they grumble and gripe, the masses don't grasp they're the trailblazing driverless state's unwitting passengers. The transition from "disastrous driver" to "no driver" was so imperceptible that no one can quite determine when it occurred, much less discern any difference in the end results.
In two years, two traumatic milestones were passed - disengagement and the Second Lebanon War - and nobody can tell if any driver held the national wheel on these occasions. One thing is certain: What was previously bad only got worse. Touted improvements just never materialized.
Hence, it doesn't really matter much if an actual driver existed through either of these rocky rides. They didn't bring us anyplace closer to the much-hyped desirable destination. We supposedly disengaged from Gaza, yet remain responsible for and dedicated to our sworn enemies' well-being. We dither about ceasing to supply them with medicine, food, water and electricity. By switching off power, we'd impede Kassam-rocket manufacture. But for now the Kassams keep coming - at significantly greater rates than pre-disengagement.
THE PALESTINIAN Authority not only didn't assume control of Gaza (as we were assured it would), it was ignominiously kicked out to make way for the Hamastan Iranian outpost. Meanwhile 9,000 of Israel's most devoted idealists are forgotten outcasts in cardboard prefabs, unemployed and hopeless. The crew supposedly in charge promised "a solution for every settler," but perhaps everything was already then on autopilot, so no one's to blame.
That would explain why, despite last summer's war bravado, Hizbullah was paradoxically reinforced, Katyushas still threaten Israel's northern third, and there's no sign from the abducted reservists.
A lot ventured but nothing gained.
The Winograd Committee merely annoys presumed driver Ehud Olmert. He profusely praises himself because everything seems to be in working order, though nothing really works. The proof: He's still in the driver's seat but, regardless, the state-motor idles by itself. The stock market blithely fluctuates and the shekel holds its inexplicable own. Oslo dream-merchants spread cheer via intimations of "new understandings" with Mahmoud Abbas's team of friendly Fatah foes. They promise the souped-up diplomatic dynamics courtesy of Condoleezza and international community cohorts. The farther things plummet toward rock bottom, the better off we seem to be.
THAT'S ROUGHLY what Olmert tells us when he delivers speeches full of honeyed blandishments signifying nothing. At the same time his chosen co-pilot, Ehud Barak, keeps mystifyingly mum about the journey's itinerary and objectives. An aura of inscrutability enhances the impression of a true strategic genius at work.
Though automated systems can replace human direction for many tasks over increasing time spans, their reliability isn't infinite. Nonetheless that meshes perfectly with the inherent Olmerite ethos. All that matters is the next headline, the upcoming prime-time newscast, and the fawning commentary by a court scribbler or crony talking head. The long term doesn't bother Olmert & Co. Their overriding concern is short-haul political survival. For that, the auto-drive will suffice and the fare payers seem to submit.
Olmert needs to propel Israel's scratched, dented and knocked-about vehicle of state down another tiny stretch of potholed highway. He can't be bothered to gaze far or train autopilot sensors on more distant obstacles. Even mapping out a route to a target location is superfluous. Olmert has no inkling where he's heading and taking the rest of us. He just needs to get through a few measly meters at a time.
In politics this mindset is called expediency; anything will do to win temporary benefit. That's why Olmert and his dependent coterie freed duly convicted Jordanian killers to please King Abdullah (who never so much as apologized for Jordanian aggression and the innocent lives it extinguished). Next Olmert released 255 convicted Fatah terrorists (with hundreds more in the pipeline) to grease Abbas's palms, knowing full well Abbas can't deliver any goods.
To further fortify Abbas's fictitious force, Olmert countenances the entry of Nayef Hawatmeh, chief of the Damascus-based DFLP (the Marxist counterpart to Islamic Hamas) and butcher of the children of Avivim and Ma'alot. By the standards of Olmert's autopilot ambition, justice is immaterial - only self-serving advantage counts.
This is the reason 178 of Fatah's most wanted mass murderers are off the hook. They'll subsequently shield those supposedly not off the hook. Not only does every terror kingpin know he won't serve out his term even if apprehended, those still at large can now relish their recently-secured immunity. The lot of them, Olmert rationalizes (having learned nothing from Osloite delusions), will unflinchingly defend Jews from Hamas predations.
The bottom line is that Israel's deterrent is gone. Israel's lifesaving war against terror is dangerously decelerated merely to enable the driverless car to mark a tad additional time on the road.
So what else is new on the eve of another year? Been there, heard that, but since we're not going anywhere, it doesn't really matter.
Eat, drink and be merry - for tomorrow we crash.

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