As fire bombs fly in Wadi Ara, missiles into Beersheba, and rocks in and around Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said little, while two key member of his security cabinet have said a lot.
That’s not the way things ought to be.
The nation is jittery, wondering where this is all going, and – first and foremost – what the government is going to do.
What is it going to do to bring back a semblance of normalcy to the South? What is it doing to prevent the spread of rioting in the Israeli- Arab sector? What is it doing to contain the current flames and keep them from spreading into a wild brush fire? Yet all we hear from the prime minister is that the government is acting with “determination” and “restraint” and “composure” and “responsibility.”
Even if all that is true, more – much more – information is needed for the public to be able to judge.
A nervous nation is lifting its eyes to its leaders – primarily the prime minister – for some kind of reassurance, some kind of direction. But all it is receiving in return are platitudes issued to the press after yet another security cabinet meeting or “high level” security deliberation that end – in the best scenario – with an anemic statement to the press that says nothing.
Even if operational plans, obviously, can’t be revealed, there is a place for Netanyahu to speak to the country, to reassure the country, to give some kind of direction. He did say something Sunday night about the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, unequivocally denouncing it as a heinous crime and saying the murderers have no place in Israeli society. But he said little about the overall feeling of crisis gripping the country.
Ironically, those speaking are those who, considering their positions, really shouldn’t be.
Both Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman have over the last few days slammed the government for what they view as its tepid response, and for not acting with more might and force inside Gaza.
Legitimate positions, obviously.
But what makes it all rather absurd is that these two men not only sit round the cabinet table, but also the inner security-cabinet table of eight ministers.
If Bennett really feels – and is not just saying for political reasons – that the IDF should slam Gaza, then let him fight for that position inside the security cabinet and convince it of the wisdom of his thinking.
He is not a back-bench opposition MK, but a member of the forum that is actually determining Israel’s reaction to Hamas.
“The strategy of ‘quiet will be met with quiet’ harms Israeli deterrence and allows Hamas to gain more strength for the next round,” he said over the weekend. “Showing restraint in the face of the execution of three children [Fraenkel, Shaer and Yifrah] is weakness.”
But, Mr. Bennett, you are in the government making those decisions. Convince your co-ministers, don’t play to the bleachers.
The same is true of Liberman.
On Friday, Liberman made a high-profile visit to Sderot where he said that “after the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers and two consecutive weeks of rocket attacks, Israel’s approach is still that quiet will be answered with quiet.”
Instead of dealing with the problem, he said, it is being postponed. “If it does not blow up sooner, it will blow up later with much more noise,” he said, adding that Israel could not accept a reality in which Hamas controls what happens while Israel continues to respond after the fact.
One could be mistaken for thinking with these words that Liberman was not the country’s foreign minister, one of the senior positions in the government, but a media commentator or back-bench MK. His statements in Sderot followed similar calls he made one day earlier in the week to conquer Gaza, and then a few days later to launch Operation Defensive Shield 2 inside the Strip.
But if he really believes that, then he is as well positioned as anyone in the country to push for it. Liberman, it seems, prefers instead issuing statements. He makes headline grabbing comments that — often — seem bereft of any substance, any real “teeth.”
Back in February, at the height of concern that the country was about to be flooded by BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) actions, he spoke to reporters and said Israel’s strategy for fighting BDS would be made clear to the public within a month and a half, hinting that there was a plan. Months later, no such plan ever emerged.
In June, he made front-page headlines by alerting the press that a meeting would be held in the Foreign Ministry to discuss whether to expel UN envoy Robert Serry, for his chronic imbalance regarding the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and for allegedly trying to channel Qatari money to Hamas through the UN.
The meeting was held, but no decision was made. Afterward, there were government officials who wondered aloud whether there was ever any real intention to expel Serry, or whether the plan from the beginning was just to send a harsh message by announcing, and then holding, a “senior meeting” in the Foreign Ministry.
Before Sunday’s cabinet meeting, another member of the security cabinet, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, had some advice for his co-ministers: speak like ministers in the government formulating policy, not “talkbackers” on the Internet.