Netanyahu Can’t Do It Anymore

Is Netanyahu, in saying to the state archivist: “I thought a lot about Begin this summer, and I understood him more than I understood him before,” planting a hint about a retirement?

Amir Oren
Amir Oren
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Netanyahu in Jerusalem, November 5, 2014.
Netanyahu in Jerusalem, November 5, 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Amir Oren
Amir Oren

The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University held a diplomatic-security simulation last week: escalation in the north following a double terror attack against the Israel Defense Forces, with casualties and a missing soldier. Led by Col. (res.) Dr. Gabi Siboni, director of the Military and Strategic Affairs Program at the institute, former politicians (former Minister Dan Meridor, former Deputy Minister Yehuda Ben-Meir), the IDF, the Mossad and academic experts practiced scenarios of renewed conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, with Syrian, Iranian, American, Palestinian and Russian input.

The exercise shows that Israeli conduct in such conflicts is something between containment and escalation. The high cost, in terms of soldiers hurt by an extended invasion and continued fighting, would not lead to an acceptable outcome. Israel wants to punish the attackers with a painful blow, but the scenario is to get drawn into Lebanon and become entangled on other fronts. Containment with touches of escalation – easy to propose, hard to implement.

The simulation at the institute was intended to help decision makers in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in the government and the military. The declared purpose was to learn and provide raw material to process alternatives and define spheres of decisions. The problem is that the identity of the main decision makers the exercise is meant to help in another half year is not known. A government at the center of which is a Netanyahu-Bennett-Lieberman constellation is not the same as a Herzog-Lapid-Livni government. When cold evaluation meets wishful thinking, the likelihood of the first scenario diminishes.

Despite desperate political maneuvering, the end of the Netanyahu age is nearing, also from the testimony of State Archivist Yaacov Lozowick. The State Archives are under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office and this body has in recent years chalked up fine accomplishments in official documentation and putting it at the disposal of the public. But it falls down again and again in its embarrassing flattery of successive prime ministers, as if it was its job to cover up their failings.

Lozowick went to his overlord to present him with a volume commemorating Menachem Begin. Netanyahu, who does not miss a chance to insinuate his wife into every conversation, this time as the person who reports to him on condolence visits, said he would like to know “what is different and what is the same about the way Begin handled the Lebanon war in relation to his own actions in Operation Protective Edge, and spoke in agony of “the terrible cost of war and the difficulty in deciding to pay it.”

That cost is amazingly similar to the presentation in the inner cabinet of the cost of conquering Gaza. The investigation of how that presentation reached the media is waiting for the High Court of Justice to instruct the attorney general, who is protecting Netanyahu, to investigate.

To Netanyahu’s surprise, the state archivist reports, it turns out that sending soldiers to their death is an experience the difficulties of which you cannot imagine ahead of time. Eighteen years after he was first elected prime minister, he finally reveals what he should have revered with utmost sanctity when he was presumed to be suitable for the office.

Netanyahu, by his own admission, “sent the soldiers to a ground operation, to the waiting enemy: Some will be killed, with certainty. And they must be sent only when there is no longer any choice. And they must be extracted the moment the mission is completed. Afterward we will see what will happen, but first of all, get them out of there.”

Up to that point, Netanyahu did not understand “how difficult it would be, and a leader who loses the sense of this difficulty should go home.”

Begin, when he realized the extent of the disaster he brought about, closed himself in his shell and announced that he could no longer do it – Meridor, from the exercise in the research institute, was there. Is Netanyahu, in saying to the state archivist: “I thought a lot about Begin this summer, and I understood him more than I understood him before,” planting a hint about a retirement that would preclude a defeat? That possibility cannot be ruled out, but better not to rely on it. Somebody, in his party and if not, among his voters, should tell him he can’t do it any longer.

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