Imagine Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid as prime minister. The army would already be at the outskirts of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. The pilots would be bombing and the artillery would be shelling. Gaza would lie in ruins. On the Palestinian side, hundreds would be dead after the first strike, some of them traffic-police cadets just like in that other wonderful war, Operation Cast Lead of 2008-09.
In his black jacket, Marshall Lapid would brief his forces: kill, destroy, obliterate, demolish. The nation would cheer and the “leftist” media would be ecstatic – the united chorus of war. Fifty days of elation, of horrific killing in Gaza and anxiety and rockets in Israel, leading nowhere. This is what Lapid meant this week when he said that “this is the right time to employ force.”
Imagine Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay as prime minister. “Quiet is bought by deterrence, not with money,” he wrote this week, as any run-of-the-mill right-winger could have written. Imagine opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who lashed out in a similar way: “Deterrence is created through military strikes,” and “exchange the Hamas leadership for people who cooperate with us.” Imagine Ehud Barak, who quipped that Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, was “humiliating Netanyahu.”
Imagine the former military chief of staff, Benny Gantz, who held his silence; imagine Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned, or Naftali Bennett, who made threats. Imagine a nightmare. Not one of the demagogues on the left or right (as if there were a difference) offered anything but death and destruction. They simply wanted to placate the media, which has become more bloodthirsty and bellicose than ever, and the public, which only wanted to see dead Gazans, the more the better, with their houses destroyed as much as possible.
Only one person stood up to this surging dark wave without faltering; we must honestly say so and praise him – the prime minister blocked another war with his body. It has been proved yet again that Benjamin Netanyahu is the most resolute war-hater among the country’s leaders. We should reiterate that, whatever his motives, the result suffices to command respect. Due to him no blood was shed. We can’t make light of this, we can’t help but give him credit.
This time he even explained his policy – in Paris on Sunday and next to David Ben-Gurion’s grave on Wednesday. He spoke about the futility of war and the unpopularity of avoiding that path – the epitome of a leader’s statement. If a politician not named Netanyahu talked like that, we’d melt with pleasure. He spoke and he acted. No one praised him, and he’ll pay for it.
In Israel, avoiding war is perceived as defeatism. Giving him a compliment, even when he deserves one, is perceived as betrayal. You can’t say a good word about the devil, you have to treat a preventer of war the way you treat someone suspected of a crime. This week we had further proof that he has no substitute. The opposition has nothing original to offer.
There’s a direct line linking Lapid and Lieberman, one of bellicose populism. The cowards of the Zionist left didn’t dare say what they had an obligation to say long ago: Only a complete lifting of the Gaza blockade will solve Gaza’s problem, which is also Israel’s problem, and only a direct dialogue with Hamas can bring this about.
Netanyahu didn’t say this, he doesn’t think this. He’s also responsible for the daring and unnecessary undercover adventure whose failure led to the latest round of violence.
>> Read more: Populism and empty threats: Lieberman deserves the public scorn | Analysis
Thus Netanyahu is a poor man’s consolation, but a consolation nonetheless. A prime minister who again prevented a war, who understood that other than placating an incited public, the move would have been futile. A prime minister who lets fuel and money into Gaza so it can breathe, even if just for a moment, is preferable to any of the warmongers in the governing coalition or in the opposition. Pictures of Gaza enjoying a little more electricity should warm everyone’s heart. But not in Israel.
On Wednesday, the bonus arrived: Lieberman’s resignation, especially if it ends the career of one of the most cynical and repulsive politicians we’ve ever had. For this too Netanyahu deserves a good word.
Now imagine Lapid. Imagine a war.