(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The one bright spot amid all the confusion surrounding Syria is the fact that
Avigdor Liberman, at least for the moment, is no longer Israel’s foreign
minister. Barred from taking up this position until the court rules whether or
not he corruptly appointed a lackey to the post of Israel’s ambassador to
Latvia, we have thankfully been spared the prospect of this diplomatic
pyromaniac dancing around the chemical fires burning in Damascus.
foreign minister in the last government, Liberman was a national embarrassment.
After he crudely contradicted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech to the
United Nations in 2010 concerning the Middle East process, the Prime Minister’s
Office was forced to take the unprecedented step of saying the foreign
minister’s speech did not reflect Israel’s official position.
away from home, while visiting Moscow, Liberman’s unqualified support for
Vladimir Putin’s 2011 election victory, which he termed “absolutely fair, free
and democratic,” had the rest of the world’s electoral observers scratching
their heads in astonishment.
Not, of course, that Liberman’s sucking up
to the Russian strongman has had any beneficial effect for Israel in terms of
Moscow’s Middle East policies. In fact, Liberman’s whole tenure as foreign
minister in the previous government was one gigantic waste of time. A persona
non grata in much of the western world due to the outrageously racist Yisrael
Beytenu election campaign he spearheaded, Liberman spent his days tramping
around Eastern Europe and South America, failing to drum up any support for his
futile attempts to block Palestinian recognition at the United
The idea of Liberman now strolling the international stage on
behalf of Israel at such a sensitive time is the stuff of diplomatic nightmares.
As chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Yisrael
Beytenu leader does have some status, but thankfully not enough to make his
recent remarks criticizing the West the source of any real embarrassment to
Defying Netanyahu’s orders to cabinet ministers to remain
silent on the Syrian issue, Liberman used the occasion of his party’s Rosh
Hashanah celebration to launch a blistering attack on US President Barack
Obama’s decision to seek Congress’ approval for a strike on Syria. Liberman
first off all blasted the West for the fact that “100,000 people were massacred
in a neighboring country, Syria, and the world continues to talk,” and he then
went on to threaten the world, particularly Damascus and the Hezbollah
stronghold of the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut, with the consequences of Israel
being dragged into the Syrian conflict.
THESE UNNECESSARY remarks not
only highlight Liberman’s unsuitability for any future return to the Foreign
Ministry but also, by contrast, the prime minister’s careful and sensible
handling of the current crisis.
Netanyahu is correct in determining that
Israel should play no overt role in the unfolding of the Syrian civil war and
that any declaration on the part of Israel is likely to boomerang against
Netanyahu’s immediate slapping down of Construction and Housing
Minister Uri Ariel for the minister’s comments on his Facebook page that they
were “opening the champagne bottles” in Tehran following Obama’s Rose Garden
speech was the action of a prime minister with a clear agenda.
present crisis, Netanyahu told his ministers, demanded “strict, central
management,” which was the way “responsible” governments operated. And, knowing
exactly the type of person he has sitting around the cabinet table with him,
Netanyahu further commented: “I ask you to refrain from acting carelessly and
irresponsibly toward our ally in order to get a momentary
Wisely, the prime minister is following his own advice,
restricting himself to bland comments that Israel is prepared for any
eventuality or that the country’s enemies “have very good reasons not to test
our strength.” Netanyahu knows there is no advantage to be gained by Israel in
becoming part of the conflict or from sniping at the West’s inaction from the
Just as Yitzhak Shamir put ideology aside during the first
Gulf War and refused to retaliate for the Iraqi Scud missiles which hit Israel
so as not to harm Washington’s attempts to build an international coalition
against Saddam Hussein, Netanyahu is right to lower Israel’s profile in this
particular crisis. All around us, the Arab world is undergoing profound change,
the results of which it is too early to predict.
There are times when the
best policy is one of inaction, which is Netanyahu’s default mode. In terms of
our relations with the Palestinians, such inactivity is a mistake, but with
regard to the handling of the Syrian crisis, the prime minister is executing
this policy impressively. His cabinet colleagues and political allies should
learn to follow suit and keep their comments and thoughts strictly to
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.