Israel is still 89 days from elections, but the exchange of blows
in Gaza is the type of event that can play a key role in campaigns, knocking way
off to the side the socioeconomic issues that parties such as Labor and Yesh
Atid want to put at the center of the agenda.
True, three months is still
a long way away. But there is no guarantee that the escalation we are witnessing
now, even if calm is restored, will not return closer to Election
This, of course, could give Hamas oversized influence on the
If the border stays quiet, socioeconomic issues will get greater
play in the campaign.
If Hamas continues to rain down rockets and
missiles on the South as it did on Wednesday, these issues will figure less
We have been here before.
President Shimon Peres, who
lost the 1996 election to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, blames his defeat
to this day on a spate of suicide bombings in the weeks and months prior to that
Whether we like it or not, the security situation that reigns in
the country near the election will affect the outcome.
Shelly Yacimovich, who will run a campaign centered on socioeconomic issues,
obviously realizes this. Still, on Tuesday she rallied around the troops and the
home front, saying – in contrast to the heads of Kadima and Meretz – that she
was giving her backing to Netanyahu and “understands the complexity of the
situation whereby the IDF needs to act alongside showing restraint.”
is important for me to show my support for the citizens of the South in their
difficult hour,” she said. “The IDF is doing excellent work and we count on it
with a full heart.”
The importance of the security situation for the
nation’s psyche is obviously not lost on Netanyahu, who has already made
enhanced security in the country over the past few years a centerpiece of his
“Four years ago, thousands of missiles and rockets fell on
Israeli citizens in the South of Israel,” Netanyahu said in the Knesset last
week when he announced early elections.
“We restored security to the
citizens of Israel,” he said. “We enacted an aggressive policy, we improved
deterrence. We did it with discretion and responsibility, but first we canceled
the policy of restraint.
That is a policy that always, always leads to
escalation and ultimately to war. Instead we introduced a policy of aggressively
responding to all firing, and also preemptively responding to prevent
That was last week, before the current escalation.
upcoming election puts Netanyahu in a predicament.
He said he brought
security, but the events of the past few days seem to belie that. He needs quiet
to run on a campaign ticket of having brought quiet.
But how can he get
that quiet? If he takes more assertive action than he has over the past four
years, he will open himself up to accusations he is doing so because of the
Indeed, Meretz head Zehava Gal-On already gave voice to that
sentiment on Wednesday, saying that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak
were escalating the situation because of the election, and to ensure that
Barak’s Independence faction makes it into the next Knesset.
that the election campaign of Barak and Netanyahu will not stop at election
propaganda and billboards, but also with igniting Gaza,” she
Gal-On’s assertion is based on the assumption that Netanyahu would
only gain from an incursion into Gaza, an Operation Cast Lead 2. But that
assumes everything goes well. And if it doesn’t, wouldn’t he pay the price at
the polls? Yet if Netanyahu does not take forceful action, he opens himself up
to criticism from his political rivals similar to what Kadima head Shaul Mofaz
said on Wednesday.
The situation in the South, Mofaz opined, was a result
of the Netanyahu government’s inconsistent and “stuttering” policy toward
“The deterrence that was achieved in the past has been eroded,” he
said. “The stuttering of the Netanyahu government on security issues and its
surplus of intimidation on Iran has a price.”
Mofaz’s argument is
interesting in light of some statistics.
From 2009, when Netanyahu took
over, until the end of September 2012, 1,508 rockets and 820 mortar shells fell
on the South from Gaza, according to Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) figures.
In the four years prior, from 2005 through the end of 2008, some 5,447 rockets
and 4,108 mortar shells fell on Gaza.
In other words, 72 percent fewer
rockets and 80% fewer mortar shells fell on the South during the past four years
than during the previous four. For those in the South confined with their
children to their safe rooms – if they have safe rooms – those statistics mean
little and give no solace. But in an election campaign, they may loom
As the past decade has shown, implementing an effective Gaza
policy is difficult if not impossible in the best of circumstances. In an
election season, when all kinds of other considerations come into play, it
promises to be even more knotty and complex.