Netanyahu May Be Brave in Dubai, but He's a Coward at Home

Netanyahu's recklessness overseas stands in stark contrast to his timid domestic leadership.

One of Benjamin Netanyahu's critics said the prime minister doesn't know what to fear when he gets up in the morning. Why? Because he's afraid. Every issue on which he feels he is likely to lose or fail - he abandons. Fact: Since coming to power he has not lost a single vote in the Knesset. He doesn't submit any proposal on which he is liable to fail.

For example, he abandoned the value added tax on fruits and vegetables, the plan to give Israeli emigrants the right to vote, the drought tax and the proposal to expel the children of foreign workers. He is considering a reduction in the reform of the highways and the grandiose railroad system, he abandoned the "jobs law" bill that would have added dozens of deputy mayors, as well as the construction of the security fence in the south along the Israel-Egypt border.

He keeps on reducing and reducing wherever the wind is blowing. One of his rivals said he is suffering from predictable capitulation syndrome in order to maintain his majority in the Knesset. This means that if the Palestinians were to agree to his plan of two states for two peoples, which involves the uprooting of some of the settlements, he would abandon it with one excuse or another for fear that his party and its partners, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu, would rise up against him.

As someone who doesn't stay the course on any issue, Netanyahu in his two terms as prime minister stayed the course in approving complex targeted-assassination operations by the Mossad in Arab countries. Before we get to the Dubai operation, which foreign sources are attributing to Israel, in 1997 Bibi approved the assassination of Khaled Meshal, chairman of Hamas' political bureau, in Amman. Danny Yatom, the Mossad head at the time, convinced Bibi that the operation's success was guaranteed. Mossad agents caught Meshal as he left his home and injected him with a chemical substance that simulates a heart attack, just like in the movies. But his bodyguard chased the conspirators, which led to some of them being arrested; others found refuge in the Israeli embassy.

When he learned about the failure, Netanyahu contacted King Hussein, who was furious at the Israeli chutzpah and threatened to sever relations on the spot if we didn't immediately send an antidote to neutralize the substance injected into Meshal. With the mediation of Ephraim Halevy, who was friendly with the king, the rescue operation was carried out in an instant. The live-dead man came back to life, an event that turned him into the most important person today in the Hamas leadership.

But the major damage of the operation was Hussein's demand to return Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and dozens of security detainees to Gaza. Yassin's return gave terror a tremendous push and strengthened Hamas. Anyone who wants to discover how Hamas took control of Gaza can begin the countdown from the failure of 1997.

Due to the secrecy of the affair at the time, it was not revealed that Bibi not only approved it but even urged that it be implemented, ignoring one basic rule: You do not carry out an operation that undermines the status and authority of the leader most friendly to Israel.

When Golda Meir was prime minister there was a small group called the "X committee" that would approve or reject mysterious operations outside Israel. We know of no such group today - the prime minister has the last word. And if the news from foreign sources is correct and Israel is involved in the Dubai operation, it's hard to understand how Bibi, who is so careful not to fail and not to get into trouble, could have approved such a hit.

First of all: his decision to assassinate Mahmoud al-Mabhouh when countries such as the United States and Britain have discontinued their targeted assassinations, in a world where monitoring is strict, electronic intelligence covers even the smallest detail and it is hard not to be exposed. Second, as far as cost-effectiveness is concerned, wouldn't it have been preferable to put Mabhouh, who was involved in acquisitions, under surveillance to discover the sources and routes of the acquisitions, instead of assassinating him? Third, on the assumption that every victim of assassination has a replacement, is the assassination worth the revenge, which is sometimes very cruel? This was the case in the lethal attack on the Israeli embassy in Argentina in response to the assassination of Hamas leader Sheikh Abbas Musawi.

If the Dubai operation is Israel's work, as foreign sources are claiming, it is a strange story, not to say a sloppy one: the use of passports of friendly countries, which were "donated" by people in Israel and abroad, and the choice of Dubai, which is monitored by a dense network of cameras, as the scene of the operation. I don't know who approved the operation at a time when our main security problem is Iran. We can assume that without the prime minister's approval it would not have been carried out. And considering the great caution he exercises so as not to fail, it is surprising that this time he played the role of Agent 007, with seven mistakes.