Gaza - the First Netanyahu War

The prime minister has boasted never having declared a war in the total of seven years he has led the country, despite being a belligerent talker. So why now?

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

About a month ago, in a Knesset speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused his predecessor Ehud Olmert of entering "two unnecessary wars," the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

"In all my years in office I haven't declared a war," boasted Netanyahu, who has served a total of seven years as prime minister.

It was strange hearing those words from the belligerent Likud leader, who fervently supported those two wars and vehemently objected to the Gaza operation's premature (from his point of view) ending. He claimed at the time, in the winter of 2008-2009, that the goal had not been achieved because Hamas' rule was not crushed.

Now he is at the helm and presumably he too wants to topple and shatter Hamas' rule. Wednesday at 4 P.M. when the missile landed in Gaza, Netanyahu joined the prime ministers who have a war in their biography. Will Operation Pillar of Defense be a success or a failure, short or long, necessary or redundant? Time will tell.

The first Netanyahu war closely resembles Olmert's second war - it is conducted in Gaza, in winter, after a creeping escalation and a week of rockets landing on the southern communities, and about two months before the Knesset election.

A sweeping military operation at a sensitive political timing inevitably raises the question, why now? Couldn't the extrajudicial killings have been carried out earlier? After all, we experienced quite a few hostile outbursts over the past year and Israel's policy was always marked with restraint. Or, wouldn't it have been better to wait until after the election? Presumably, Jabari would still cruise Gaza's streets in his car after January 22.

Much has been written and said about the elusive agenda of the 2013 election. Most politicians assumed a security agenda would serve Likud and Netanyahu, and indirectly Defense Minister Ehud Barak, just as an economic agenda after the 2011 summer protest would harm them. So here we are, 67 days to the election, Gaza is burning and Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to ask the UN General Assembly to recognize Palestinian statehood.

The political players quickly toed the government's line Wednesday, as is customary in these parts. Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich published an enthusiastic statement of support for killing the "arch terrorist" Jabari and called on her political colleagues to back the IDF. And people call her a leftist. Yair Lapid said the killing was "as justified as it could be." Only Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On dared wonder if Israel wasn't being dragged into a war because of the four-year freeze in the peace process.

The politician in statu nascendi, Ehud Olmert, also sent congratulations to the IDF and the decision makers, whose names he did not mention (probably for emotional reasons ) for killing the "snake's head."

Olmert was supposed to announce his return to the political bog today. Due to the events the announcement was put off until next week or the devil knows when, if at all. Perhaps Jabari's assassination also liquidated Olmert's political aspirations.

The election campaign that was supposed to gather momentum in the coming days and weeks is entering a deep freeze, at least for the foreseeable future. We will now see all the familiar sights and moves again - politicians will display their support for the south's residents, make resolved declarations and show up in dark windbreakers. But the glee and encouragement bursting from the television screens on hearing of the assassination may soon be replaced with different voices and sights, which will also take over the political arena.

Wars usually don't end the way they begin. We've been through that already, more than once.

Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip November 14, 2012. Credit: Reuters

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