PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu has served as the foreign minister. What might happen next?.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If there is one thing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows how to do, it is how to communicate.
He is Israel’s great communicator, one reason why he is on the trajectory to overcome David Ben-Gurion in just two months’ time as Israel’s longest serving prime minister. He knows how to talk to his people. He knows what strings in the nation’s historical memory to pull, and both when and how to pull them.
He knows what resonates, and what does not: his five election victories, including the most recent one last month, bear witness to that. He knows when to use passionate oratory, dramatic oratory, heroic oratory.
On Monday, in announcing – sort of – the end of the latest round of fighting in the South, which claimed four Israeli lives and paralyzed nearly two million Israelis for two days, he chose none of the above: neither passion, nor drama, nor heroism.
He did not – as he has done following previous rounds of violence, such as in November – address the nation. Rather, he issued a brief, seven-sentence statement that did not even mention that a ceasefire was agreed upon. Why acknowledge that an agreement of sorts was reached with terrorists?
“Over the last two days, we struck Hamas and Islamic Jihad with great force,” he said. “We hit over 350 targets. We struck at terrorist leaders and operatives and we destroyed terrorist buildings. The campaign is not over and it demands patience and sagacity. We are prepared to continue. The goal has been – and remains – ensuring quiet and security for the residents of the South. I send condolences to the families and best wishes for recovery to the wounded.”
And that was that.
No boasting of any great gains, no praise for the strength and resilience of the country in withstanding an unprecedented missile barrage. Just a short note saying the campaign is far from over.
Though not very inspiring – or inspiring at all – that brief communique sums up the situation rather well: there was no great victory, and no tremendous achievements to speak of, as the rockets fell silent early Monday morning.
There was relief in some quarters that the two days of non-stop missiles were over, and that life within 40 kilometers of the Gaza Strip could return to normal. But there was also deep frustration that the Gaza problem was not solved, but rather just kicked down the road. And the anemic communique reflected that reality.
The statement was honest in that it stated what happened, made no boasts, unrealistic claims or pie-in-the-sky claims of victory just around the corner. Boxers do not run out and claim victory between rounds of a 15-round bout. And that is what Israel’s confrontation with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza has become: a deadly fight of many rounds.
The way Netanyahu handled this round was no different than the way he handled 500 missiles fired toward Israel from Gaza in November, something that triggered then-defense minister Avigdor Liberman’s decision to leave the government, thereby forcing new elections. And it was no different than the way he handled the missile attack on Moshav Mishmeret in March, when he cut short his trip to Washington and flew back to Israel to deal with yet another Gaza crisis.
Then, as now, Netanyahu hit back, but stopped short of a wider military campaign; taking considerable political fire for his actions – and for not, as some called upon him to do, “finishing the job, once and for all.”
In Netanyahu’s mind, it is impossible at this point to finish the job in Gaza once and for all. Sure, Israel could retake the coastal strip, but at a high cost in blood and treasure.
And then what? Administer it again, even though that did not turn out so well the first time? Hand it over to the Palestinian Authority, although that also did not turn out well the first time?
Last month, just prior to the elections, Netanyahu was asked in one of his many pre-election interviews why he did not take more aggressive action in Gaza.
“I do not wage unnecessary wars,” he said. “I use force when it is needed and am willing to pay the price, but only when needed. More than that, I am willing to pay the political price when you don’t need [force]. I want every mother and father to know that I will not send their children to war without exhausting every possibility. It is very possible – very possible – that we will need to launch a wider military campaign in the Gaza Strip and mobilize the forces. But that is the last option, not the first.”
While Netanyahu made clear on Monday that this option remains on the table, the manner in which he conducted the operation over the last two days – refraining again from launching a wide-scale military campaign that might win him some momentarily applause – shows that he does not believe every other option has yet been exhausted.
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