Since the image was used by Hillary Clinton in her 2008 electoral campaign, the idea of the president being wakened by a late-night emergency has been a prominent one in U.S. politics. In reality, however, such emergencies are rare. Less so in Israel, writes Tevi Troy:
President Obama told the talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel that he had only been wakened three or four times over the course of his presidency, and never in the face of any kind of existential threat. But . . . the late-night wake-up is a recurring reality for Israeli prime ministers. Unsurprisingly, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, was the first to experience a prime-ministerial wakeup call, which came before he was even officially prime minister. Ben-Gurion was wakened at 1 a.m. on May 15, 1948—he became prime minister on the 17th—to be told that President Harry Truman had recognized the fledgling state of Israel. Ben-Gurion was then disturbed at 4 a.m., without having fallen asleep in the interim, to be brought to speak over the radio for an American audience at what is now Tel Aviv’s Independence Park. While he was in the midst of speaking, Tel Aviv was attacked, a point Ben-Gurion made sure to include in his broadcast.
This would not be the last time affairs of state intruded on Ben-Gurion’s sleep, even if it was the most momentous. And his successors would have their own share of after-midnight emergencies. Israel has also disturbed the sleep of American presidents:
[One] Israel-related presidential wakeup happened in January 1991, during the first Gulf War. President George H.W. Bush had been working to keep Prime Minister Yitzḥak Shamir from retaliating for Iraqi Scud-missile attacks aimed at drawing Israel into the fray. As Bush recalled, “[I] put on the hardest sale I have ever used” to persuade Shamir not to respond. . . . Following Bush’s successful lobbying, Iraq attacked Israel again. The national-security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, woke up Bush 1:30 a.m. to let him know. Bush feared the worst, writing in his diary that “they are going to retaliate.” Yet Shamir kept his cool. Bush called the prime minister to express his gratitude and followed up by sending Israel a shipment of Patriot missiles.
Sign Up For Our E-Mail List Get the latest from Mosaic right in your inbox
Sign up now for unlimited access