William Shakespeare's tragedy about the Prince of Denmark includes a play-within-a-play with which Hamlet hoped to expose Claudius, suspected of murdering Hamlet's father the king, and to embarrass his mother Queen Gertrude, who married her husband’s killer and made him king.
The play is a thinly disguised reprise of the royal usurpation and fails to elicit the incriminating reactions Hamlet was hoping for. After watching the opening scene, in which the actress playing her repeatedly pledged eternal loyalty to her husband the king and melodramatically vowed not to remarry if he should die, the cool-headed Gertrude uttered the famously scathing theatrical rebuke: “She doth protest too much, methinks.”
A similar appraisal accompanied the press conference convened on Tuesday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman in the wake of the targeted assassination of a top Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza.
Their presentations included all of the familiar themes typical of such events, with one uniquely bizarre feature: Their repeated insistence that the timing of the Gaza operation was chosen by the army and not by Netanyahu. The IDF and Shin Bet “identified the moment”, Netanyahu insisted. “It was the best possible timing,” Argaman corroborated.
They too doth protest too much, and for good reason. Even if the prime minister was not Netanyahu, a transitional government’s approval of such a risky military operation at the height of a political crisis would have sparked inevitable doubts about timing and motives. All the more so when such a potentially momentous move is authorized by a prime minister like Netanyahu, who has proven time and again over the past year that his own survival overrides any and all national values or accepted norms – and that lying about it is second nature.
The rule of law, for example, is a foundational asset no less critical to Israel’s wellbeing than ensuring the physical safety of its citizens. Nonetheless, Netanyahu consistently slanders police investigators and state prosecutors and dispatches his lackeys to accuse them of nefarious plots and hideous crimes. He has undermined the public’s confidence in Israel’s legal system and has thus corroded an essential cornerstone of Israeli democracy. Not for ideological reasons, heaven forbid, but because of his desperate quest to evade his own impending indictments.
This is the same Netanyahu who bucked tradition by refusing to relinquish his presidential mandate after failing to form a new government, dragged Israel into a second election in September and is now yearning for a third round, despite the steep costs to the Israeli economy and the growing public disillusionment with elections and politics overall.
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Netanyahu has a ready explanation for every move he makes and a no-less convincing excuse for its complete reversal, but his motives are crystal clear: The elections failed to deliver the desired outcome – a coalition that will grant him immunity – so Israel will simply have to go to the polls once again. In the meantime, Netanyahu clings to his august position as prime minister and uses it to try and sabotage the legal case against him.
So that despite the faux outrage and righteous indignation that he and his minions spewed forth on Tuesday, the suspicion that Netanyahu is eminently capable of ordering a military operation to serve his own purposes – as he demanded on election eve in September, after being embarrassed by a rocket attack that rushed him off a party stage in Ashdod – is inevitable and unavoidable.
Hours before the Gaza assassination, Netanyahu tweeted about how a Gaza operation would decimate any alliance between Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan and the Joint List. Hours after the operation, Netanyahu’s media’s mouthpieces opined that the option was now dead in the water. If you believe it’s a mere coincidence, you might be interested in buying the Brooklyn Bridge.
Netanyahu is now like the little boy who cried wolf in Aesop’s fable. After proving over and over again that he is willing to subjugate the interests of the state and its values to his political and personal interests, Netanyahu needed Kochavi and Argaman as character witnesses to vouch for him.
It is only by virtue of their testimonies that Netanyahu, can, at a stretch, enjoy the benefit of the doubt that this time around, his decision was based on some solid strategic reasoning in addition to his staple selfish concerns. Even so, it’s an exception that proves the rule.