Israelis put aside their many divisions Tuesday to remember more than 22,000 fallen soldiers and civilian victims of Palestinian attacks, mournfully aware that the strife that led to those deaths is far from over.
In an annual ritual marking Memorial Day, air raid sirens sounded at midmorning, traffic halted and people stood silently at attention for two minutes. Israeli leaders gathered at the national cemetery for a memorial service for soldiers.
Memories of the recent war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip are raw. Although Israeli casualties were low -- 13 dead compared with more than 1,400 Palestinians -- Israel emerged from the offensive facing war crimes allegations and the realization that the widespread devastation in Gaza had done little to ensure peace and security.
The specter of a nuclear Iran also loomed large. Israel has identified Iran as the country’s biggest threat, citing its nuclear program and support for anti-Israel militant groups.
Israel and the United States, among others, accuse Iran of secretly seeking nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the allegation, saying its program is for peaceful purposes.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vitriolic statements against Israel last week at a U.N. conference have underscored those fears.
“Our hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the memorial ceremony. “But our enemies should not misunderstand: We shall never compromise on our security. . . . That is our obligation to the fallen, that is our obligation to the citizens of Israel, that is our obligation to coming generations.”