WASHINGTON – In May 1967, in brazen violation of previous truce agreements,
Egypt ordered UN peacekeepers out of the Sinai, marched 120,000 troops to the
Israeli border, blockaded Eilat (Israel’s southern outlet to the world’s
oceans), abruptly signed a military pact with Jordan and, together with Syria,
pledged war for the final destruction of Israel.
May ‘67 was Israel’s
most fearful, desperate month. The country was surrounded and alone. Previous
great-power guarantees proved worthless. A plan to test the blockade with a
Western flotilla failed for lack of participants. Time was running out. Forced
to protect against invasion by mass mobilization – and with a military
consisting overwhelmingly of civilian reservists – life ground to a halt. The
country was dying.
On June 5, Israel launched a pre-emptive strike on the
Egyptian air force, then proceeded to lightning victories on three
The Six-Day War is legend, but less remembered is that on June 1,
the nationalist opposition (Menachem Begin’s Likud precursor) was for the first
time ever brought into the government, creating an emergency national-unity
Everyone understood why. You do not undertake a supremely
risky pre-emptive war without the full participation of a broad coalition
representing a national consensus.
Forty-five years later, in the middle
of the night of May 7-8, 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shocked his
country by bringing the main opposition party, Kadima, into a national unity
Shocking because just hours earlier, the Knesset was
expediting a bill to call early elections in September.
Why did the
high-flying Netanyahu call off elections he was sure to win? Because for
Israelis today, it is May ’67.
The dread is not quite as acute: The mood
is not despair, just foreboding. Time is running out, but not quite as fast. War
is not four days away, but it looms. Israelis today face the greatest threat to
their existence – apocalyptic mullahs publicly pledged to Israel's annihilation
acquiring nuclear weapons – since May ’67. The world is again telling Israelis
to do nothing as it looks for a way out. But if such a way is not found – as in
’67 – Israelis know they will once again have to defend themselves, by
Such a fateful decision demands a national consensus. By
creating the largest coalition in nearly three decades, Netanyahu is
establishing the political premise for a preemptive strike, should it come to
that. The new government commands an astonishing 94 Knesset seats out of 120,
described by one Israeli columnist as a “hundred tons of solid
So much for the recent media hype about some great domestic
resistance to Netanyahu’s hard line on Iran. Two notable retired intelligence
figures were widely covered here for coming out against him. Little noted was
that one had been passed over by Netanyahu to be the head of Mossad, while the
other had been fired by Netanyahu as Mossad chief (hence the job opening). For
centrist Kadima (it pulled Israel out of Gaza) to join a Likud-led coalition
whose defense minister is a former Labor prime minister (who once offered half
of Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat) is the very definition of national unity – and
refutes the popular “Israel is divided” meme. “Everyone is saying the same
thing,” explained one Knesset member, “though there may be a difference of
To be sure, Netanyahu and Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz offered more
prosaic reasons for their merger: national service laws, a new election law and
negotiations with the Palestinians.
But Netanyahu, the first Likud prime
minister to recognize Palestinian statehood, did not need Kadima for him to
enter peace talks. For two years he’s been waiting for Mahmoud Abbas to show up
at the table.
Abbas hasn’t. And won’t. Nothing will change on that
What does change is Israel’s position vis-avis Iran. The
wall-to-wall coalition demonstrates Israel’s political readiness to attack, if
necessary. (Its military readiness is not in doubt.) Those counseling Israeli
submission, resignation or just endless patience can no longer dismiss Israel’s
tough stance as the work of irredeemable right-wingers. Not with a government
now representing 78 percent of the country.
Netanyahu forfeited September
elections that would have given him four more years in power. He chose instead
to form a national coalition that guarantees 18 months of stability – 18 months
during which, if the world does not act to stop Iran, Israel will.
will not be the work of one man, one party or one ideological faction. As in
1967, it will be the work of a nation.
Charles Krauthammer’s email
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.