(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
When it rains, it pours, and right now the prime minister is getting soaked to the skin by a downpour of biblical proportions.
As police investigations into the various dealings of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continue to pile up, a damaging report which threatens his image as the guarantor of Israel’s physical safety will, in all likelihood, soon be exposed to the public.
Reeling politically from the fallout of the investigations, and with Likud’s polling numbers plunging below those projected for Yesh Atid, a professional assessment by the state comptroller that Netanyahu failed the country on matters of national security would leave the prime minister in serious political trouble.
The State Comptroller’s Report on the handling of the 2014 Gaza war reportedly alleges that the prime minister did not sufficiently disclose the severity of the Hamas tunnel network threat before the conflict; that the security establishment was not prepared for the tunnel threat when Operation Protective Edge began; that Netanyahu, together with former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, did not keep the rest of the security cabinet sufficiently informed of developments, and that he made major decisions together with former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz and no one else.
This list of concerns with Netanyahu at the helm amounts to a serious charge sheet, which put the lives of Israeli civilians and soldiers at risk due to a failure to adequately prepare for the latest stratagem devised by Hamas.
It is certainly conceivable that the publication of the report would lead to demands for a commission of inquiry, similar to that of the Winograd Commission into the conduct of the Second Lebanon War, which was heavily critical of prime minister Ehud Olmert and plunged his approval ratings to almost zero.
Beset by corruption allegations and an image of incompetency, Olmert was ultimately forced out of the Prime Minister’s Office.
While the pending publication of the report spells further trouble for Netanyahu, it could prove to be a political boon for both Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.
Bennett has maintained that the 2014 Gaza conflict was handled badly by Netanyahu and Ya’alon, and excerpts from security cabinet transcripts published on Tuesday show Bennett urging action against the tunnel threat before the operation was even initiated.
The Bayit Yehudi leader has been pressing for the report to be published for some time, stating that it is likely to endorse his version of events and demonstrate that his instincts regarding the tunnels were correct.
But it is perhaps Lapid who stands to gain the most politically from publication of the report. The Yesh Atid founder is riding high in the polls, and is confidently projecting himself as a candidate for prime minister at a time when the Zionist Union is in danger of disappearing without trace.
A central charge against Lapid is that he is a lightweight leader who fumbled his first venture into government and has no army record, or any serious security credentials.
But if it is shown that Netanyahu, Mr. Security himself, can fail the country in a serious way over critical matters of national defense, then Lapid could argue that the more decisive approach to governance that he is advocating – in all matters political, diplomatic and military – should be given a chance.
Yesh Atid is already polling higher than Likud, and although Netanyahu has until now remained the country’s preferred leader, Lapid is breathing down his neck even without a report that questions his decision-making process on security concerns.
Should the report be as damning as has been suggested, Mr. Security might face an even rockier road ahead.