UN observers on Sunday noticed two drones crossing the border from Israel into Syria, and shortly afterward saw columns of smoke rising from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. It turned out those drones had attacked a convoy, killing Hezbollah commanders and fighters and a general from Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
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Israel took responsibility via messages conveyed by semiofficial sources — government mouthpiece Israel Hayom, which praised the “precise and surprising action by our forces,” and a half-apology by a “security source” for the killing of the Iranian officer, delivered to a foreign media outlet.
Beyond that, Israel is wrapped in formal ambiguity that the military censor is enforcing on the Israeli media, which are not allowed to provide reliable reporting and must suffice with questions and riddles. This ambiguity hides nothing from the enemy; Hezbollah and Iran announced that Israel had killed its men and threatened to retaliate.
As details of the incident become clearer, it’s as if the censorship were designed to bolster Likud’s election campaign and hide the truth about the incident. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon are marketing themselves as fighters experienced in battling terrorism.
But the disappointing stalemate with Hamas in the Gaza war lost them support and voters to Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi. Bennett portrayed them as wimps while depicting himself as a tough and determined candidate to lead the defense establishment. Netanyahu and Ya’alon’s claims of being measured and responsible while shunning impulsive decisions were not accepted by the people, costing Likud Knesset seats, at least in opinion polls.
Did political worries push them into a dangerous adventure that has brought Israel to the brink of a confrontation with Hezbollah and Iran? Did they seek to prove they were no less bold than Bennett, who is threatening to steal voters from Likud and take Ya’alon’s job?
Obviously the prime minister and defense minister didn’t seek targets on their own; they received intelligence information and an operational proposal. What was the position of the senior military professionals? Did they believe that killing an Iranian general and middle-ranking Hezbollah commanders was worth the risk?
Netanyahu and Ya’alon’s recklessness and avoiding of responsibility under cover of censorship only strengthens the view that they are not fit for their jobs. The military’s willingness to toe the line set by its political superiors and the opposition’s hesitancy to “unpatriotically” criticize a showcase operation in Syria is no less worrisome.