In his statement to the nation Wednesday night announcing the acceptance of a
cease-fire deal with Hamas in the south, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
effectively ended an eight-day military campaign and began an election
And the words he chose to tell the nation that the fighting with
Hamas has – at least temporarily – ended, also foreshadowed what will be the
theme of his campaign: providing security while retaining international support
and avoiding an all out war.
When Netanyahu opened the winter session of
the Knesset in October by calling for new elections, he stressed that during his
tenure security had been restored to Israel as far fewer rockets fell, and far
fewer Israelis were killed by terrorism, than under his immediate predecessors.
Further, he stressed, in the seven-and-a-half years total that he has served as
prime minister, both during his first term and his second, the nation did not
march off to war.
By agreeing to a cease-fire, Netanyahu kept this record
intact, and it is a record that flies squarely in the face of the perception
held of him by many abroad as a reckless warmonger with an impatient trigger
But that perception is not born of reality, nor the one he wants
to take into the campaign. Tough but responsible, yes; Dirty Harry with the
Middle East’s most powerful army, definitely not.
establishment, the State of Israel has faced complex challenges in the Middle
East, and in recent years we have all seen how that complexity has increased a
great deal,” Netanyahu said Wednesday night.
“Under these conditions we
need to steer the ship of state responsibly and with wisdom and must take into
account numerous considerations, both military and diplomatic ones. That is how
a responsible government acts, and that is how we acted this time as well. We
employed military might along with diplomatic judgment.”
And there is the
likely theme of his campaign – military might with diplomatic prudence,
restoring quiet, albeit temporarily, while retaining international
His statement Wednesday night was also punctuated with praise
for US President Barack Obama’s unwavering support, a sentiment surely
heartfelt. It is also a sentiment that he wants the electorate to hear just two
months before an election: “I can, and do, work with the US president
The cease-fire that went into effect Wednesday night,
putting an end to the latest round of fighting, will be met in the country with
a mixture of relief and anxiety.
The relief is the fact that it will put
an end to a dreadful week in which six Israelis were killed, hundreds wounded, a
million people were confined to a few seconds from their bomb shelters, and
millions more carried on with their lives under the threat of a rocket landing
on their car, home or kids’ school. At times like these, a return to routine
The anxiety is because of a widespread recognition that
this cease-fire is just the temporary lull before the next round. Operation Cast
Lead bought a degree of deterrence and quiet for four years. The hope is that
Operation Pillar of Defense will have done the same.
Netanyahu had a
difficult tightrope to walk so soon before the election. On the one hand, he
needed to restore a modicum of security to his citizens. On the other hand, he
did not want – just weeks before the vote – to risk a full-fledged war that
could easily sour and be used against him.
In a mere two months, the
public will determine whether he succeeded in that task.