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'Mr. Security' Netanyahu Is Looking Very Insecure Days Before the Election

Despite receiving the priceless gift of Golan Heights recognition by U.S. President Donald Trump, the prime minister is hounded by escalation with the Palestinians

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make statements in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make statements in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019.Credit: Susan Walsh,AP
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

LIVE UPDATES: After night of rockets, Israel and Gaza signal willingness to keep cease-fire

The missile from Gaza that landed on Monday on a home in Moshav Mishmeret in central Israel – and the Israeli military’s operation that followed – changed the 2019 election agenda for the who knows how many times.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 20Credit: Haaretz

In a short period of time, we experienced a political big-bang in the center-left, the appearance of a party of generals, a draft indictment with serious allegations of bribery against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, we were told Benny Gantz’s cellphone had been hacked by Iran and of a loose end to Netanyahu's submarines affair. Every story and has a limited life expectancy, it is only relevant until the next “storm” captures the headlines. And who knows what lies ahead in the coming two weeks.

The Gazan gun fired twice since the election campaign began: Less than two weeks ago two Fajr rockets were fired at Tel Aviv – it seems because of a technical fault with the launchers – as well as dozens of rockets fired at Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip. The IDF responded with restraint, and the ritual came to an end, leaving no trace behind. On Monday, 15 days before the polling stations open, it happened again.

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Security incidents pursue prime ministers everywhere they go. Netanyahu, the prime minister and defense minister, did the right thing when he canceled his speech at the AIPAC conference and the festive dinner in Washington. Pictures of Netanyahu and his wife Sara raising glasses of champagne in the magnificent rooms of the White House at a time when more than a third of Israelis may be in bomb shelters – would be a show of detachment. Netanyahu would never give such an opportunity to his rivals, on the right or the left

In any case, Netanyahu received the biggest election present ever given to an Israeli leader from his most important campaign supporter, U.S. President Donald Trump: The recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. This moment came about, completely by chance, without any intention, only 15 days before the April 9 election. An election which for Netanyahu is do or die. Short of explicitly calling on Israelis to go out and vote for Netanyahu, Trump delivered the goods – including the sophisticated opinion that Netanyahu “loves Israel very, very much.” After Trump let loose, Netanyahu flew home.

You don’t have to be a warmonger or an exhausted and anxious resident of the Israeli area near Gaza to be angry at Netanyahu's statement that the missile landing on a home in central Israel is a criminal attack. What about the continuous attacks, night after night, on communities in the south? A prank? Rowdiness?

It is still too early to say whether the escalation in the south will develop into a long and broad campaign like the one just before the 2009 election (Operation Cast Lead) or in late 2012 (Pillar of Defense). What is clear is that Netanyahu is not happy to go to war just before the election, when his reputation as “Mr. Security” is shakier than ever, when deterrence against Hamas is a long-forgotten memory, and when he is being challenged by a trio of combative former IDF chiefs of staff.

If missiles are not launched at central Israel, it is reasonable to assume that Netanyahu will try to put on the brakes soon, after he decides that Israeli public opinion has been satisfied. Not everything is under his control, of course. In this tango of blood, two must dance. His political profit and loss calculations can only be made when the present saga ends – and then too, everything must be taken with a grain of salt, as headlines are short-lived. Sometimes they don’t even survive for one hour.

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