Netanyahu Is Playing Dangerous Games on the Playground

Those who play with fire draw fire, Netanyahu warned. This is not the man who should be leading the country in emergency situations.

Niva Lanir
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Israeli military vehicles burning along the Israeli-Lebanese border near Ghajar village, on January 28, 2015, following a Hezbollah missile attack.Credit: AFP
Niva Lanir

The editor must have missed something. If he had at least put some caveat on the news item that was broadcast last week on Channel 10, like “Warning: Images might be difficult for some viewers,” he would have been doing his audience a favor.

But he didn’t, and on the screen there appeared a mournful, heavyset man, whose hair and appearance were gray, pacing back and forth across the podium, his eyes darting about in his effort to elicit a response from the crowd.

Maybe they’re filming David Grossman’s “A Horse Walks into a Bar,” I thought, and comedian Dov Glickman was trying to work the crowd, playing a stand-up comic at a bar in Netanya. But it turned out the gray man was actually the prime minister of Israel, who, like Grossman’s comic, was having a hard time getting the words out and making his point. The scene, if it isn’t clear by now, was pathetic.

“We have no hesitation about standing up and saying, ‘We will build here and nurture here there are those who want to withdraw, to flee and to bow their heads,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. “We will not establish Hamastan B. We will not make that mistake, not twice and not three times.”

Earlier, at an event at Yad Vashem, he promised a response to the Hezbollah fire on the Golan Heights, saying, “Whoever plays with fire will draw fire.” Well, that worked, and fast. By the next day, Hezbollah proved that the Israeli prime minister knows what he’s talking about; an Israel Defense Forces convoy took a lethal hit near Har Dov. Fire in exchange for fire.

For decades I’ve been listening to prime ministers make it clear that Israel does not take its security lightly. Some were moderate, others less so. Golda Meir wasn’t “nice.” Yitzhak Rabin was cautious. Ariel Sharon spared nobody anything. It’s true that Netanyahu isn’t the first to boast. Menachem Begin suggested to Syria’s Hafez Assad in 1981 that he should be careful because Israeli generals Avigdor Ben-Gal and Rafael Eitan “are waiting,” and everyone promised everyone that the long arm of the Jewish state would reach them at the time and place of Israel’s choosing.

But none of them spoke as foolishly as Netanyahu did when he said that whoever plays with fire will draw fire, only a few days after the “mystery” attack in Syria, the statement by Israeli sources that they didn’t know an Iranian general had been in the convoy that was hit, and leaks to the effect that the army wasn’t pleased, shall we say, by the government’s order to attack.

There is no difficulty assuming that Hezbollah would have attacked even if Netanyahu had kept quiet. That organization long ago adopted its own version of “Our long arm will reach you.” But are we playing “Who started?” on the local playground?

Only recently Netanyahu tried to mock Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni in a campaign video that asked the question, “Whom do you want answering the red phone in the middle of the night, Tzipi and Bougie?”

Yes, Tzipi and Bougie. Why not? Is he any better? Is there anyone, except perhaps for Yisrael Katz, Gilad Erdan, Yuval Steinitz, Zeev Elkin, Ofir Akunis, Miri Regev and company, who still thinks it would be better for Netanyahu to take the emergency call? Does anyone still think the prime minister who was on the verge of sending the IDF to attack Iran, who compulsively gambles with U.S.-Israeli relations and is permanently unfit to negotiate with the Palestinians will exercise judgment in a war with Hezbollah?

If today’s opposition leaders are to be the ones who answer the red phone tomorrow, it would behoove them to recognize that this policy of silent non-intervention that they’ve adopted over the past few days — the concept of “Quiet, we’re shooting” — has lost its way somewhere in the hills of Lebanon and the alleyways of Gaza.

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