Netanyahu's March of Folly Is Worthy of Putin

The Israeli prime minister wants to bring back military parades on Independence Day. He glorifies words and symbols at the expense of security.

Israeli tanks at a military parade in Tel Aviv on Independence Day, 1959.
Moshe Pridan, GPO

At one of the Independence Day events this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed the nostalgic desire that parades by the Israel Defense Forces, which were halted following the Yom Kippur War, be revived. Netanyahu recalled his childhood in Jerusalem, where he witnessed IDF parades in Israel’s then-small capital. The young country’s army was careful not to unduly rile the neighbors; the spectacle sufficed with a few jeeps, light tanks and a cannon or two.

After 68 years of independence that has become routine, Netanyahu is eager for a new kind of parade, which is reasonable to assume would be similar to the showstopper on Israel’s 20th birthday a year after the Six-Day War. And indeed, why should he pale compared to Vladimir Putin on Red Square, French presidents on the Champs-Elysees, and the leaders of North Korea and Iran?

If Netanyahu were a serious person, he wouldn’t have expressed his wish before thoroughly considering holding such an event. For example, how much would it cost and what would it mean to take units away from their regular activities? In preparing and actually staging the parade, is the IDF willing to forgo training and the operations that, thanks to Netanyahu’s policies, are focused on policing the West Bank?

Netanyahu glorifies words and symbols at the expense of purpose and substance. In his view, an IDF parade would be the military equivalent of a speech in Congress: He doesn’t care so much if it does more harm than good. The display’s the thing, and Netanyahu should be in the middle of it.

His imperial manners are compatible with a parade where tanks and troop carriers pass in unison with the Oketz canine corps and undercover Duvdevan soldiers. When they reach Netanyahu and his wife, they’ll salute their commander.

Like the clumsy efforts by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev to wrap herself in the flag, Netanyahu is keen on basking in the glory of the IDF, whose prestige has been maintained, certainly compared to political institutions. And this comes at a time when he hasn’t hesitated to erode the authority of the military command in a time of political distress.

This was the case, for example, in a telephone conversation with the soldier suspected of manslaughter in Hebron while the defense minister and IDF chief of staff have been trying to head off the nationalist anarchy’s incursion into army orders. It’s also the case in the reprimand of a deputy chief of staff who dares tell the truth about worrying developments in the country in the Netanyahu era. As usual, the prime minister is counting on a citizenry oblivious to the contradiction.

If Netanyahu so wishes a military parade, so be it. Let him do his job and seek peace, after which the IDF will march out of the territories.