It was enough to hear the talking points recited by Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz on the radio after Israel's attack on Iranian “killer” drones this week to raise suspicions that the prime minister’s political interests were behind the operation. Katz called Iran the head of a snake being defanged by Israel. Katz repeated the message over and over, and it’s significant that he strives to etch in listeners’ minds Benjamin Netanyahu’s role in deciding to attack the drones and his contribution to the country’s security.
Not three hours after the broadcast, Netanyahu himself appeared all over the media taking credit for the attack, warning Iran and any other country aiding hostile attacks against Israel, and promising the people that he had given orders to do whatever necessary to ensure their security. Israelis went to sleep on a regular Saturday summer night and woke up to a stormy and tense day of constant reports on Israeli attacks in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestinian terror attacks in the West Bank and attacks from Gaza, which triggered Israeli military responses.
The ability of one man, Benjamin Netanyahu, to change with one order the state’s agenda, the overall atmosphere in the country and the vulnerability of the people to hostile actions is disturbing enough on routine days, and all the more so during election season. Netanyahu is now serving as a caretaker prime minister, and this fact should limit his authority to lead the country into major military confrontations.
A key ruling bears witness that the spirit of the law doesn’t authorize a caretaker prime minister to radically shake up life in the country. Last week the High Court of Justice overturned the decision by Justice Minister Amir Ohana to bring in his own director general because he’s a caretaker justice minister, so can a caretaker prime minister launch military operations with major implications?
Such trepidations are valid for any caretaker government, all the more so regarding Netanyahu, who’s already suspected of subverting every value of governance to his personal interests. Someone who doesn’t loathe quashing the rule of law to be saved from the terror of the law, who doesn’t hesitate to shamelessly lie to preserve his rule, who isn’t deterred from overturning the parliamentary rules of the game to keep the charges against him from scrutiny seems destined to raise security tensions to distract public opinion from issues he isn’t comfortable with.
One could counter that defense of state security is the main job of every prime minister, even a caretaker prime minister, and that the principle of self-defense allows even a caretaker prime minister to decide on military attacks wherever he deems necessary. Some will also say that Netanyahu isn’t deciding alone, and that the cabinet, the military chief of staff and the other security branches are capable of challenging his initiatives.
However, this critical link doesn’t exist today in the decision-making process. Netanyahu is also defense minister, the cabinet is made up of spineless ministers, Aviv Kochavi is a new chief of staff and the current heads of the Shin Bet, Mossad and National Security Council are perceived as the prime minister’s lackeys.
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Therefore, the probability that Netanyahu is creating an excuse for escalating confrontations with Iran and its proxies near and far isn’t unrealistic. And even if the suspicion is mistaken, the very fact that this thought won’t go away shows that this prime minister, during this caretaker period, has lost the legitimacy to take the country into major military conflicts where lives are lost. He’s not the man who will convince grieving families that there was no avoiding the death of their loved ones.