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Friday, November 6, 1998 Published at 14:58 GMT

World: Middle East

Analysis: The fears of Israelis

A woman distraught after a bomb blast on a busy Tel Aviv street

By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

The latest car bomb explosion in Israel has underlined the changing perceptions of security in the country.

Middle East
Once, it was the threat to the Jewish State from its Arab neighbours that guided the security debate. But a new element in the Israeli defence debate is ordinary peoples' growing perception of their own insecurity.

There is a paradox in Israel's defence debate which has fundamental implications for the course of the peace process with the Palestinians:

In purely military terms, Israel today faces no real threat to its existence.

  • It has modern, well-equipped armed forces.

  • It has its own highly sophisticated arms industry

  • It has much first-line US weaponry

  • It has a never openly acknowledged, but widely assumed, nuclear capability

Israel in short is a regional power.

But this has done little to reassure ordinary Israelis that the peace process is really improving their security.

[ image: Israelis face insecurity on the streets of their cities]
Israelis face insecurity on the streets of their cities
Peace and security are inextricably interwoven in the Israeli political debate.

But as the nature of Israeli society changes, as the economy becomes stronger, the population larger; and the hold of Israel's founding ideology weakens, so what used to be a highly collectivist society is becoming a more individualistic and fragmented one.

It is this individual perception of insecurity - the fear of bombs on buses or in other public places - that is having a significant impact upon the Israeli government's handling of the peace process.

There has long been a debate about how far the Palestinian Authority is willing to curb the activities of groups who back the bombers.

But most security experts accept that even high levels of cooperation between the Palestinians and the Israelis will not end such attacks altogether.

It is an unpalatable fact for both sides. And one that risks throwing up a new road-block to the peace process every time there is a new explosion.

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