Netanyahu's boasting of Syria strikes may be a preemptive attack on Gantz

Never before had Israel rushed to take immediate credit for the IDF’s operations, time after time, as has been happening in recent months.

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January 21, 2019 18:25
2 minute read.
Collage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

Collage of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.. (photo credit: GALI TIBBON/POOL VIA REUTERS & MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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Two concurrent trends can be contrasted at this early stage ahead of the April 9 election, and they may not be a coincidence.

The first is the silence of former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who has been presumed to be the main competition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Gantz wants to build himself up politically in the limelight of his past military career before exposing his political views.

The second is the opposite behavior by Netanyahu himself, who has been boasting about Israel’s military strikes in Syria lately in what has been interpreted by his critics as an attempt to build up his military credentials ahead of a challenge from Gantz, who could be joined on a Knesset slate by fellow former IDF chiefs of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon.

“I am sorry to say it is all related to April 9 and political survival,” Ya’alon told Army Radio in frustration on Monday. “Can someone explain to me what the benefits are of the announcements other than politics?”

Indeed, it was news the first time former Air Force commander Amir Eshel bragged in August 2017 that Israel had struck in Syria nearly 100 times. That number became more than 100 times in subsequent speeches by top military brass.

But never before had Israel rushed to take immediate credit for the IDF’s operations, time after time, as has been happening in recent months. Netanyahu spoke openly about the strikes in Syria with reporters on Sunday’s visit to Chad. His associates even leaked that a call Netanyahu took around the time of the strikes was from new IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi.

This can be contrasted with the behavior of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who did not admit to attacking Syria’s nuclear reactor until a full decade later, even though taking credit for the operation could have given him a much needed political boost at the time.


There was one politician who did speak about it back then: opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who first leaked to The Jerusalem Post that he had been briefed about the operation before it took place. After that article was completely censored by the IDF, he boasted about it in an interview on live television to make sure the public was aware.

It is possible that Ya’alon is wrong, and that there are professional, strategic reasons for Netanyahu’s change in policy. After all, Netanyahu was also criticized for exposing the Mossad operation that revealed Iran’s nuclear archive in a high-profile speech to the world in April.

The critics questioned why a clandestine Mossad operation had to be revealed in such great depth, like no operation by Israel’s intelligence agencies ever had before. They got their answer nine days later, when US President Donald Trump cited the nuclear archive as his main reason for breaking America’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Regardless of whether Netanyahu’s change in policy from plausible denial to public boasting on Syrian strikes is completely professional or only political, its political impact cannot be denied.

Netanyahu is prime minister and defense minister and can decide on military maneuvers whenever he wants. Gantz, Ashkenazi and Ya’alon can only watch as the man who wants the public to know he is Mr. Security strikes again.

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