Opinion |

Netanyahu Is Too Distracted to Face the Threats at Israel's Doorstep

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem May 19, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem May 19, 2019.Credit: Ariel Schalit,AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

A heavy cloud is gathering over the Persian Gulf whose implications for Israel could be disastrous. The United States talks about sending over troops and makes belligerent statements that are met with no less threatening responses by Iran. Attacks on oil tankers and the firing of Katyusha rockets at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad have raised the tensions to new heights.

In Jordan, public protests are rising over high unemployment and corruption. Harsh statements against the way the king runs his kingdom are heard not only from unemployed young people but also from former senior officials no longer keeping silent.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is on the brink of economic and political collapse. American assistance has been frozen, foreign investments aren’t coming in and the main concern is that no one will be left in the West Bank to run the PA. Gaza is receiving generous aid from Qatar but that money can’t calm the mood for long. If Israel doesn’t make good on its commitments to Hamas via Egypt, which include a significant easing of the closure and the beginning of reconstruction in the Strip, the next round won’t be far off.

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In the face of these warning signs, Israel has no coherent policy or reliable strategy. The well-worn statement that “we are ready for any scenario” is far from satisfactory. The frequent clashes with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, occasional attacks in Syria and threats on Hezbollah can’t strengthen faith in Israel’s capacity for deterrence.

But the most dangerous threat is the lack of Israeli leaders who can navigate these mine fields. The country is being run by a prime minister (who’s also defense minister) enmeshed in legal issues and busy giving gifts and favors to vultures seeking to gorge at the state coffers while he’s planning his and his family’s survival.

Even in ordinary times, that is, when security threats are not the main issue, such a prime minister isn’t worthy of his office, let alone when Israel’s security hangs in the balance. How can Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seriously consider intelligence data, weigh military plans, study lines of political action, find weak spots or initiate moves when he’s facing the challenge of funding his legal expenses and contemplating the prison cell, and while trying to get the members of his party and future ministers to support the bills that will save him?

The superman image that Netanyahu and his associates try to sell the public is a total lie. There is no such person. The aura of omnipotence turns Israel’s citizens into hostages – that he can run the country as if no draft indictment has been issued, that he can handle with the same seriousness two fateful issues: one that can decide the country’s future and the other his personal future.

We can be horrified at the intended choice for education, justice or public security minister. We should take to the streets to protest the intention to turn the justice system into a lifeless exhibit of abstract art, and rise up against the transformation of ministers into demigods exempt from judicial oversight or punishment for their actions.

But we must not leave the country’s security in the hands of someone distracted and whose every security decision, even if it’s wise, will seem like another convoluted exercise to serve his personal interests. This man, who has already proved that he doesn’t balk at any step to save his skin, isn’t qualified to face the threats on Israel’s doorstep. He is incapacitated, and any claim otherwise puts the country’s life in danger.

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