Don’t Rush to the Bomb Shelters, Avigdor Lieberman Is Harmless

The man Benjamin Netanyahu wants as his defense minister will be too worried about keeping his job to do anything that will risk war.

Israel Harel
Israel Harel
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Netanyahu and Lieberman at the Knesset Foreign and Defense Committee, June 10, 2013.
Netanyahu and Lieberman at the Knesset Foreign and Defense Committee, June 10, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman
Israel Harel
Israel Harel

Even though the bomb shelters should always be ready – and they definitely aren’t – I have a suggestion for everyone shocked by Avigdor Lieberman’s expected appointment as defense minister: Don’t rush to prepare and stock them. Lieberman, like Menachem Begin in 1977, won’t lead Israel into a war; quite the opposite. He’ll want to prove that, contrary to his reputation, he’s a judicious and pragmatic man.

He won’t lead us into an attack on Iran; he won’t retake Gaza, even though he demanded doing so during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and on other occasions. And he won’t stop the “humanitarian” shipments of cement with which Hamas is rebuilding its tunnels.

“The death penalty for terrorists?” The murderers who have stood trial, who are preparing to kill more Jews when they’re released in the next capitulatory swap for kidnapped Israelis, won’t be hanged.

And residents of the largely Arab Wadi Ara area shouldn’t start rejoicing. To their great sorrow, they won’t be transferred to the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction, based on Lieberman’s plan, and won’t be able to enjoy the delights of equality in the enlightened Palestinian democracy.

The issue of “equal rights and obligations for all” also won’t rise from the grave. What’s the value of the lofty political ideas Lieberman dreamed up compared to the great privilege of breaking the defense establishment’s glass ceiling? (After all, the only things that ever whistled past his head were tennis balls, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once said.)

Only belonging to the defense establishment – especially by bearing the title “defense minister” – grants true right of entry to the inner sanctum of Israeliness. And no price – which will be paid by Israel’s citizens – is too high for Lieberman to purchase this right.

The military chiefs certainly don’t need to rush to find refuge in the “pit,” as the wartime command center is known. Lieberman will jump through hoops to curry favor with them. Unlike current Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who has personally operated deep behind enemy lines and knows how to weigh the value – and risks – of audacity, Lieberman won’t hasten to approve secret operations lest they fail and endanger his position.

Army Radio, whose closure he once vehemently demanded, will be able to remain the mouthpiece of the enlightened public – as an opposition to the rightist government and the producer of scoops that sabotage construction even in Jerusalem. After all, wasn’t that always its professional vision?

All the NGOs that serve hostile governments and the BDS movement won’t need to go underground either. Lieberman’s promise to make them illegal has exactly the same value as all his other oaths and vows.

Since he’s someone for whom “his word is his word,” other key issues that earned him the votes of hundreds of thousands of Israelis, like the nation-state bill, will also remain in the deep freeze. I would even dare say without irony that the main ideological agreement achieved between Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog – freezing construction in the settlements – will be upheld, with Lieberman’s consent, even by the new “far-right government.” (Just as it is upheld de facto today.)

The Habayit Hayehudi party, in its foolishness, worked to promote this appointment, while the purist, irresponsible left is enabling it. The same goes for settler activists in the ruling Likud party. They think having a settler as defense minister will remove the obstacles to construction and prevent the destruction of communities like Amona. This is a baseless conclusion, and it also, forgive my bluntness, reflects self-centered short-sightedness regarding the country’s overall interests.

Lieberman, to quote Netanyahu again (and the prime minister is projecting from his own character), doesn’t belong to either the right or the left; he isn’t loyal to any ideology or party framework. The responsible ideological right that views the country’s needs from a broad, comprehensive perspective is the group that actually ought to be worried, very worried, by the prospect that these two spineless men, Netanyahu and Lieberman, both devoid of any binding ideology, will be leading the country.

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