Analysis |

Israel-Gaza: Lapid and Gantz Surprise Islamic Jihad, and Netanyahu Too

It is too soon to determine the ramifications of Gaza operation Breaking Dawn, but so far, even the opposition admits with clenched jaws that things are going well for Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset in June.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset in June.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Another election approaches, with another Gaza operation in progress. The feeling is that we’ve already been there. A military confrontation in the midst of an election campaign, with the operation managed by two political rivals striving to be prime minister, is often accompanied by other elements which aren’t useful. The friction usually comes later, when events enter the water-treading stage. The famed “sourpuss” attitude spreads; residents trapped in their homes and others who fled their homes start growing impatient; photos of dead children stoke hostile reactions around the world. We’ve learned on many occasions that what begins with 170 seconds of everlasting glory may end up as 170 days or weeks of frustration, sometimes leading to a commission of inquiry.

So far, even the opposition (which is already souring) admits with clenched jaws that things are going well for Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. If there is any (natural) tension between the two political rivals, it isn’t felt, not in photos, which broadcast harmony and collegiality, and not in the manner in which the opening move was planned.

With patience and calm, ignoring the pestering of Netanyahu and his cronies, who were accusing the prime minister of feebleness, fear and surrender to pressure by the Joint List and the United Arab List, political leaders and Israel Defense Force commanders set the trap for Islamic Jihad, giving Egyptian mediators enough slack to provide the organization with an opportunity to climb down from the tree.

The army prepared, the home front was readied, Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet security service employed their surveillance. The media were fed with disinformation regarding “continued tension for the next 48 hours and beyond,” or that it was unlikely that the government would embark on a military operation on the eve of Tisha B’Av, with Jews visiting the Temple Mount. The leaders of the terror organization swallowed the bait and were hit.

As a rule, and this is an old doctrine, it’s best to avoid wars of choice. But in the three days leading up to the blow dealt by the air force, Israel was forced into an unacceptable and surreal reality: An entire region was placed under a kind of curfew due to a terror threat, without a single shot being fired. No sovereign country would have acted any differently.

It’s too early to try and estimate the political ramifications of this. The election is still far off, even though we’re fed up with it. What can be said at this stage is: 1. The operation disrupts a campaign planned by Netanyahu, based on claims that Lapid and Gantz are captives of the “Muslim Brotherhood” (Mansour Abbas, in a well-considered reaction he published on Saturday, continues to display rare judiciousness and responsibility). 2. If things don’t get out of hand, and they usually do, Lapid will shake off the epithet of immaturity and inexperience which got in the way of his assumption of the prime ministerial mantle. 3. Already by its second day, the operation has yielded some roiling political news: the head of the opposition has deigned to come for a security briefing by the prime minister.

For 14 months, Benjamin Netanyahu has been undermining the legitimacy of the “government of change,” which has changed its head in the meantime. His refusal to show up for monthly briefings not only violated the law, but helped relay the message that the prime minister’s office is occupied by a person who has nothing to teach “Mr. Security.” And here, it turns out that there is. Lapid will explain that sometimes one has to take the initiative, not making do with a reaction, when all the heads of the snake are already in hiding, deep underground.

A possible immediate effect of the operation, if it doesn’t end in the next few days, is the postponement of the primaries in the Labor Party, scheduled for Tuesday, and in Likud on Wednesday. The Likud holds its internal election across the country, whereas Labor uses digital voting. One can only pity the contenders, whose suffering will be prolonged. At least the TV studios are affording them disproportionate air time in relation to their true heft, allowing them to spout their empty blather.

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