Can Israel's political chess game lead to a security disaster?

Netanyahu’s government seems to be a cat with nine lives, saved this time by Education Minister Bennett and Justice Minister Shaked announcing on Monday morning that they would not be resigning.

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November 20, 2018 00:43
2 minute read.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an annual state memorial ceremony for Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an annual state memorial ceremony for Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, at his gravesite in Sde Boker Israel November 14, 2018. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

 
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A prime minister also serving as defense minister can lead Israel to pay a heavy price in terms of security, defense experts believe.

With a shaky coalition and facing several investigations, the challenges facing Netanyahu, who currently holds five portfolios (Prime Minister, Foreign, Health, Immigration and now Defense) are not simple.

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While defense experts believe that Netanyahu has the ability to act as both defense and prime minister in the short term, the current political situation could lead Israel to make decisions it could regret.

According to one defense establishment source who spoke to The Jerusalem Post, “politics is leading us to do things in the Gaza Strip which we shouldn’t be doing...we don’t want Gaza to face a humanitarian collapse which will lead it to a disaster security-wise.”

Netanyahu’s government seems to be a cat with nine lives, saved this time by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announcing on Monday morning that they would not be resigning.

During the dramatic announcement that they would not force elections by resigning from Netanyahu’s government if Bennett was not appointed defense minister, he took a huge political risk and criticized the IDF.

According to him, the country is in a “deep security crisis” and “has stopped winning” since the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

“I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the confusion, the chaos, the lack of determination, the lack of spirit,” he said.


Dr. Eitan Shamir, former head of the National Security Doctrine Department in Strategic Affairs Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that while it would have been good for Bennett to hold the defense portfolio, it would have come with a significant risk had something were to happen under shift.

For Shamir, Netanyahu’s long history of involvement in Israel’s foreign and security affairs will “at least for the coming months, fill the void” and will not have a negative effect on the defense establishment, as long as he has a competent deputy who is not chosen due to political considerations.

“The defense establishment is a well-oiled machine,” Shamir said, adding that any “big decisions will be taken by Netanyahu as the prime minister.”

On Sunday night at the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said that Israel is “in one of the most complex security situations.” The next day during his first address as defense minister at the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs committee, he once again stressed that Israel was “still in a military campaign.”

Defense establishment officials do agree that the current situation Israel finds itself in is complex, and the risk of a major conflict on either the northern or southern front can explode at a moment’s notice.

But unlike Netanyahu, who has been flying around the world wooing government leaders, they stress that the security challenges the Jewish state faces have not dramatically changed in recent weeks.

The IDF, unlike what Bennett said Monday, still wants to win and can still win. The only change in recent weeks is the political environment. And one wrong move in Israel’s political chess game can lead to deadly mistakes.

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