What does it mean by "asleep at the watch"?

The childish awe that accompanied the president stands in unfortunate contrast to the indifference greeting the next state visit to Israel. Unlike the Trump visit, this one will mark an historic occasion: the first-ever by the prime minister of this country. This individual presides over an economy that is growing at a dizzying pace and could one day emerge as the world’s largest. Yet days before the arrival of the world's most important prime minister – India's Narendra Modi – Israel is asleep at the watch. (Meirav Arlosoroff / Analysis)

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  • Military jargon divides the day into watches. If you were to read a good English language dictionary's definitions and usage examples of the noun watch, you would find the usage here both defined and demonstrated. What dictionary did you consult to learn about the several meanings of this noun? – P. E. Dant Jul 9 '17 at 7:17
  • @P.E.Dant Beyond just the definition of watch, this an uncommon idiom- I doubt this particular case of being "asleep at the watch" would be included. – j4eo Jul 9 '17 at 7:24
  • Asleep itself holds no mysteries, and an attentive reading of the definitions and examples of usage of the noun watch provided by most English dictionaries would lead a curious reader to an understanding of the phrase. "Asleep on the watch" is a current usage. – P. E. Dant Jul 9 '17 at 7:45
  • This sounds like a poor translation. Wat it originally written or spoken in English? – Johns-305 Jul 9 '17 at 11:42

According to this source, which agrees with my initial assumptions, "(falling) asleep on the watch" is an Israeli idiom similar to the American "(falling) asleep at the wheel." Watch in this case refers to the military duty of standing guard as a lookout. Falling asleep would mean that one would stop paying attention- something very crucial to both standing watch (in the Israeli idiom), and driving (in the American version).

The general use is when someone has failed to prepare or complete a particular task of importance. In this instance, Israel being asleep at the watch means that they have fail to gather a similar crowd for Prime Minister Modi's visit as they had with Trump.

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