Early in the summer of 1983 Menahem Begin became unfit to serve as prime minister. For weeks this fact was concealed from the Israeli public by cabinet ministers and military leaders.
Late in the summer of 2012 Israel has an unfit prime minister once again. Many government ministers know this to be true. The tremendous weight that has been placed on the heads of the defense establishment in light of the possibility of a war order being issued shortly before the U.S. presidential election on November 6 - against the United States and for the purpose of dragging that country into war unwillingly - is a by-product of that knowledge. So are the remarks voiced by hawks in the military establishment about the prime minister's messianic madness.
The prime minister's unprecedented offensive against the United States; his blatant interference in the election campaign in general, and that of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in particular; the unconcealed strategic dispute with America, which has ruptured the critical strategic alliance with the United States at the most critical moment: All on the orders of a single individual, as members of the government look on in horror and astonishment.
Begin announced, "I cannot go on," and resigned. The incumbent premier will not. On the contrary. The more he realizes the distance between the picture in his head and reality, for example if his gamble on Romney does not pay off, the more likely he is to step up his inflammatory rhetoric and rash actions to the point of jeopardizing Israel's very existence. Make no mistake: The possibility of a war with Iran even before November - in the face of U.S. opposition - has not disappeared.
The cabinet ministers have a responsibility to decide for him. Benny Begin could be a decent prime minister, as could his cabinet colleagues Dan Meridor, Silvan Shalom, Moshe Ya'alon, Avi Dichter or Ehud Barak. Even the jingoist Avigdor Lieberman is more fit to be premier than the incumbent. One way or another one of them must replace the unfit prime minister immediately.
The incumbent was not elected by popular vote. His Likud party came in second in the election, the governing coalition was approved by the Knesset. The coalition now has a duty to put up a fit prime minister.
Many family tragedies are made possible by the silence of those who are aware of what is going on. There are reasons for their silence, chiefly fear for what would happen to them and the family were the secret to get out. But when they do their duty and speak out, everything suddenly becomes much more easy. The military leadership's opposition to going to war against Iran - for the purpose of dragging in the Americans on the eve of the election - could serve it as an example now as well. President Shimon Peres, too, realized the wisdom of ending his silence and speaking out, as part of performing the duties of his position.
These days there is much talk about "blunders." That's wrong. In 1972-73 there was no "blunder." Everyone has 20-20 hindsight. But the issue back then was not the error of a single individual. Anwar Sadat's offer of peace and demilitarization in return for full withdrawal was rejected by an Israeli establishment consensus. It's understandable: The free and easy golden beaches of the new empire were so delightful; the few inhabitants of Sinai seemed to prefer Israeli rule; after the wars of 1948, 1956 and 1967 the Israel Defense Forces appeared invincible. Why on earth should we return it?
The "blunder" is today, an existential blunder. As in opposing war right before the U.S. election the entire Israeli military and political establishment, including the most important cabinet ministers, knows the policy of destroying the strategic foundation of Israel's security - the alliance with America - poses an existential threat and is the opinion of a minority of one. One who is dragging all of Israel into danger the cost of which will dwarf that of the Yom Kippur War.
If the cabinet members do not meet their duty, if they keep the dangerous secret and do not replace the unfit prime minister, their blunder will put the burden of responsibility on Israel's citizens. They have a duty to turn out to vote en masse. The duty of the heads of the parties that are not religious and right-wing will be to recognize that these are not ordinary times, and that creating a functional majority of 61 Knesset votes to remove an unfit prime minister trumps all ordinary personal or party considerations. Responsibility for the blunder will go to all those who fail to rise above themselves and take action.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now