Netanyahu’s Win: A Resounding Loss for Israel’s Security

In his desperate and successful bid to keep his post, the panic-stricken prime minister has left the security establishment with a whole slew of dangers.

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Military Intelligence chief Major General Herzl Halevi. He will have to warn the PM of the new threats on the horizon in the wake of his victory. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

There is one person who should be very worried today, regardless of whom he voted for. His name is Herzl Halevi, a general in the Israel Defense Forces, who serves as the head of Military Intelligence and the person responsible for the national intelligence assessment. Halevi is not responsible for the net evaluation of the Blues (Israel) against the Reds (the enemy and the rest of the world). That job rests with the IDF’s planning division, the National Security Council and the government. However, the Red glow in his eyes, and the way in which the Blue is reflected onto this Red, as it is assessed by Military Intelligence, gives pause for grave concern.

On Tuesday night, Benjamin Netanyahu did not break through the one quarter ceiling. As in all previous Knesset elections, disregarding the direct election in which he competed against Shimon Peres, no more than one out of four Israelis gave Netanyahu their vote. Three quarters of all Israelis did not choose the Likud leader. Among them were some who assumed that the parties of their choice would join Netanyahu, but they still chose not to vote for Likud under his leadership. Looking at the entire bloc of Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi shows only a redistribution of seats within that bloc, with 44 MKs in the new Knesset as opposed to 43 in the outgoing one. Except for minor adjustments, the basic segmentation among right, center, left and ultra-Orthodox voters did not change.

However, in order to maintain this situation and keep his job Netanyahu exposed two disconcerting aspects of his personality which can by implication reflect very badly on Israel’s security.

Panic attack

First there is the matter of his conduct. On Tuesday morning Netanyahu was seized by uncontrollable panic. It is indeed possible that the self-recrimination of the media and pollsters for their egregious mistakes is justifiable and it’s possible that the facts at the time were correct: All the available data indicated that Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog was flying high and that Netanyahu was in a downward spiral. Right or wrong, this was the scenario facing Netanyahu and guiding his actions. If everyone was wrong he was too and his situation was much better than he believed it to be. His response was panicked and frightening. He spoke in terms of a looming disaster, reminiscent of 1998, when Saddam Hussein was said to have missiles with biological weapons-tipped warheads and Netanyahu was restrained by more sober cabinet ministers and senior officers in his rush to act.

This reflects on his conduct, which should send shivers down the back of anyone considering scenarios in which he wages war against Iran. Of no less concern is the focus of his panic. This time it was the Arab demon. We’ll never be able to refute the hypothesis that waving this banner saved the day for Netanyahu. The fact is that he felt under sufficient distress to pull out this scare tactic. A further fact is that by using it he snatched victory from the jaws of a debacle. The conclusion is that there is a causal relationship between the two. Fight the Arabs and save the government was the catchword. Not any Arabs, not Hamas or Hezbollah, but the citizens of Israel (including a High Court justice, the head of the Elections Committee Justice Salim Joubran, was accused by Netanyahu of muzzling right-wing elements. There has not yet been any sharp remonstration over this by Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, Joubran’s senior colleague).

After 67 years of pretensions of coexistence and a lack of contradiction between a Jewish and a democratic state Netanyahu, in one fell swoop which turned out to be conducive to his remaining in power, sacrificed Israel’s claim to be counted among the enlightened nations of this world. Accusations of a fifth column in our midst, calls to strike at Arabs and save the country were taken out of their mothballs and restored to active service, like ancient B-17 bombers that are taken out of an air force museum to be used when the F-16s run out. In his effort to halt the hordes of shaheeds [Islamic martyrs] on their way to the ballot box, Netanyahu did everything he could except impose a curfew on Kfar Kassem.

Bibi's message to America

What message is he sending to the United States? Not to the white America of John Boehner and Sheldon Adelson, Ted Cruz and the Evangelists, but to the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural one, the America of Condoleezza Rice and Susan Rice, Colin Powell and Barack Obama. Did he watch Obama’s speech in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of the March held there in protest over the difficulties preventing southern blacks from implementing their right to vote?

How will Obama respond when [Palestinian President] Abu Mazen shows up at the UN, saying that this is the real Israel, racist with its four fifths Jews and one fifth Moslems and Christians whose Arab origins make them second-class citizens; that this is an Israel wishing to de facto annex the West Bank and make its residents third-class citizens? What will Obama do if there are Palestinians who believe that things are desperate and that the only way to break out of the stranglehold is by terror acts or a popular intifada?

If Israel has pulled back into a situation resembling the American south in the 1960s or the South Africa of the 1980s instead of becoming more moderate and flexible, who will listen when it again complains of a deal shaping up with Iran?

All this needs to be included in the cold calculations made by the research division of Military Intelligence, signed off by Brig. Gen. Eli Ben-Meir, an officer full of humor (and nephew of former National Religious party MK Yehuda Ben-Meir) who will find great difficulty in seeing anything humorous in all this. This assessment will be handed over to Halevi and then to Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot and the government, with the personal comments of the MI chief. He, in remaining truthful, will have to speak directly about the risks of the responses of the world, the region and the immediate milieu, which may be similar to those of October 2000 [when Israeli Arabs and security forces clashed violently.] The responsibility for the latter lies with the police and security forces, but the army must prepare for possible interference in its movements along Highway 6 or on the Nahal Iron highway in case reserve forces need to be mobilized for reinforcing certain areas.

Halevi was part of a team headed by Dr Yossi Ciechanover, which looked into the implementation of the recommendations of the Turkel committee that tried to improve the investigation of infractions of rules of conduct in war by the army, police and security services. He knows the price that commanders and their civilian supervisors, including the defense minister and prime minister, may have to pay if the Israeli response to the Arab reaction deteriorates into accusations of war crimes.

Netanyahu’s triumph is almost as big as Golda Meir’s victory in the summer of 1973, when the so called Galili document [authored by the former Labor politician and cabinet member Israel Galili] maintained the unity of the ruling party, paving the way to an electoral win, but also sent a message of indifference to Anwar Sadat’s peace overtures. One more victory like that and the country is lost.

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