In boxing, a one-two punch is a nickname for the strategy of using a jab followed by a cross punch to weaken and eventually bring down opponents.
In Israeli politics, the equivalent is the examination of a poorly run IDF operation, followed by a series of criminal investigations. The initial punch can leave a prime minister weak and more susceptible to be knocked out by the subsequent blow.
Case in point: Few remember that the highest approval rating achieved by an Israeli prime minister was currently incarcerated Ehud Olmert’s 78% at the start of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
His support fell to only 40% immediately after the war, due to perceptions he did not handle it well. Nine months and multiple criminal investigations later, Olmert’s approval rating fell to only 3%, which made him, like his friend George W. Bush in the US, ironically hold records for the highest and lowest popularity in his country’s history.
By then, a government-appointed commission of inquiry chaired by retired judge Eliyahu Winograd had charged Olmert with “very severe failures” in his handling of the war. More judges would rule on Olmert soon after, leading to his prison sentences.
Fast-forward to this Tuesday. State Comptroller Joseph Shapira released his long-awaited opus on 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. Like Winograd, he did not spare criticism for the prime minister, in this case Benjamin Netanyahu.
Shapira blasted Netanyahu, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz for not initiating discussions with the cabinet on how they proposed to counteract the threat of terrorist tunnels from the Gaza Strip.
He portrayed Netanyahu as hesitant to take necessary action, and even worse, as being dragged into a ground operation against the tunnels by his protégé turned rival, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, much like he has been dragged by others into positions on diplomatic issues. Such a charge could be a severe blow to a man who has had the mantle of “Mr. Security” in a country where voters vote more on security than on any other issue.
The 50-day war was the longest in Israel’s history since its 1948 War of Independence. It led to the deaths of 74 Israelis and more than 2,000 Gazans.
The 4,251 rockets fired on the home front paralyzed the South, briefly halted flights at Ben-Gurion Airport and left most of the country a target at one point or another.
The report blasted operational errors that artificially extended the war, faulty procedures, and leaks from the security cabinet. While not the subject of the report, former ministers added missed opportunities for diplomatic overtures at the end of the operation as mistakes in retrospect.
But the most devastating messages from the report and from interviews with former security cabinet ministers this week were that the entire operation may not have been necessary, and that in retrospect, the war was not wanted by Israel and did not accomplish enough to justify it taking place.
Doesn’t that sound like enough of a jab to make Netanyahu stagger? Does it leave him weaker for cross punches from his own criminal investigations? The short answer is no, and there are a number of reasons why.
First of all, very few people read comptroller’s reports. This one was much more exciting, and at 200 pages was shorter than other publications put out by Shapira’s office. But they don’t sell comptroller’s reports at Steimatzky’s bookstore, so it won’t reach a mass audience.
The news cycle in Israel moves faster than almost anywhere around the world. By Thursday, there were already newspapers that did not mention the report on their front pages.
Next week, attention will shift to other headlines from Ma’aleh Adumim to Moscow. By the end of the month, people will forget again that Shapira exists.
Netanyahu is very good at setting and changing the public agenda. He would like it to be about his forthcoming trips to Russia, China, and back to Washington for the AIPAC Policy Conference and another meeting with US President Donald Trump.
Those trips also take the focus away from his criminal investigations, which may indeed be serious. Police lamented this week that their probes were advancing too slowly, in part because they have had a hard time setting a date to question the globe-trotting prime minister, who just returned from trips to Washington, Singapore and Australia.
That long distance between Sydney and Caesarea can be compared to the distance in time that there will be between the report by Judge Shapira and when Netanyahu could face a judge in criminal proceedings, making one have negligible impact on the other.
But the biggest difference between Olmert and Netanyahu is that Olmert’s opposition leader was Netanyahu, and Netanyahu’s opposition is Isaac Herzog, whose call for the prime minister “to reach conclusions and put down the keys” was barely noticed.
Some possible alternatives to Netanyahu, like Ya’alon and Gantz, were similarly singed by the report. Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid still bear political burdens that could prevent their advancement.
Following the Second Lebanon War, there were protests by families of victims.
In retrospect, the protests were found to have been instigated by the Likud, harnessing grieving families for a political agenda.
There are no protests now, not even fake ones.
So although the Comptroller’s Report hit Netanyahu hard, he is definitely not yet down for the count.
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