Analysis

How the Strike on the Syrian Nuclear Reactor Plays Into Netanyahu's Hands

Even though the prime minister had nothing to do with the operation — and has spent the last decade talking about, rather than neutralizing, another nuclear threat — he still gains

File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an F-15.
IDF Spokesperson's Unit

It took almost 12 hours after the dam of censorship burst and the story of the attack on the Syrian nuclear reactor could finally be told by the frustrated Israeli media before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally saw fit to comment on it.

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It’s no accident that the fastest tweeter in the country took this much time to respond. He was enjoying the mutual mudslinging and hair-pulling that erupted between two of his predecessors, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, who looked like two embittered retirees, as well as among former heads of the intelligence agencies, at least those who are still alive.

The little boys were misbehaving in front of him, and he kept his distance. What we experienced starting at 5 A.M. Wednesday morning was an orgy of inflated egos, a “diarrhea” (as Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman colorfully described it) of TMI (“too much information”), a carnival of patting oneself on the back and more than a little Israeli provincialism. The operation was an enormous success, the planning was exemplary and even luck was on Israel’s side.

<< Lieberman regrets clearing 2007 nuclear reactor strike for publication

But hey, isn’t that what they’re there for, those people in government offices, army bases and war rooms? It’s strange that even the pilots got dragged into this and shared their emotional experiences with the public.

Netanyahu also enjoyed the fact that for an entire day – an eternity – one single narrative dominated the media conversation: the necessity of destroying nuclear reactors which threaten Israel. Behold, we dared, we attacked, we bombed, and it’s good that we did so.

When he did finally comment, laconically, he stressed that “Israel’s policy has been and remains consistent – to prevent our enemies from arming themselves with nuclear weapons.” The policy may be consistent, but the actions are less so.

Menachem Begin bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor without prattling about it beforehand. Olmert dropped 18 tons of bombs on Syria without giving sweaty, terrifying speeches about an impending second Holocaust. Whereas the incumbent has been blathering and threatening and speechifying for a decade already. If he ever had an opportunity to act, it is gone with the wind.

Nevertheless, at least in the short term, with the police investigations against Netanyahu sidelined in the media, the story of the reactor’s destruction plays into the prime minister’s hands. In the collective consciousness, it strengthens the feeling that as long as the threats against Israel haven’t ceased, the person leading the country must be someone with defense and diplomatic experience.

Yair Lapid and Avi Gabbay, both of whom are running for prime minister, aren’t even on this court. Lapid spent a short while as a member of the diplomatic-security cabinet (like hundreds of other ministers and bureaucrats over the years), and he frequently reminds us of it. But that’s a mere featherweight. And Gabbay doesn’t even have that little bit on his record.

The past week sent the two Ehuds into battle on two fronts. The first was due to publication of the e-book version of Ehud Olmert’s autobiography, “B’guf Rishon” (“In First Person,” published by Yedioth Books). The second erupted on Wednesday, after publication of the details of the attack on Syria.

In the first, Ehud Barak emerged with the upper hand. Olmert, in a televised “interview” with Gil Riva, didn’t hesitate to tell embarrassing lies, such as that he never asked his bureau chief, Shula Zaken, to protect him. Barak exploited this, and in a series of interviews depicted Olmert as a “court-certified” serial fabricator and habitual liar. But in the second battle, the outcome was reversed. Barak’s claim that Olmert ran security cabinet meetings “hysterically, in an apocalyptic atmosphere,” was contradicted by a long list of other participants, including former Labor Party ministers and former senior defense officials. Labor MK Isaac Herzog, who was a member of the security cabinet at the time, asserted on Wednesday that “Olmert was superb.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a special cabinet meeting in the southern Israeli city of Dimona on Tuesday, March 20.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP