Reality Check: Blue and White’s empty threats

Gantz needs to target Netanyahu on the campaign trail, not Hamas.

August 12, 2019 18:24
4 minute read.
Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz (R) and Yair Lapid share words behind a party poster

Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz (R) and Yair Lapid share words behind a party poster. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Before becoming defense minister, Avigdor Liberman vowed to give Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh 48 hours to hand over two Israeli civilians held in Gaza as well as the remains of two IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, “or you’re dead.”

We all know how that ended. Haniyeh is still very much alive, and the captured Israelis are still in Gaza, as are the bodies of the fallen soldiers. Liberman’s shortish spell as defense minister meanwhile finished with yet another ceasefire agreement with Hamas and the transfer of millions of dollars from Qatar to prop up the hostile Islamist movement’s administration.

You would think, therefore, that Israeli politicians would think twice before issuing more empty threats against Gaza, not wanting to insult the voters’ intelligence. But no, not the Blue and White Party’s leadership. Last week they grandstanded with the best of the rabble-rousers during a tour of Sderot, the city which has suffered the most from Hamas rockets.

Next time rockets fall on Sderot, “We will aim for the toppling of Hamas, take action to assassinate all Hamas leaders and go in with ground forces for however long we want. We will not accept a ceasefire. We will bring about the military defeat of Hamas,” said Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

“We will hit [Hamas] headquarters, warehouses, operatives,” chipped in Gabi Ashkenazi, No. 4 on the Blue and White slate. Then, no less ambitiously, he pledged, “We will fix the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

Not to be outdone, Blue and White’s No. 2 Yair Lapid added: “Next time rockets are fired at Israeli citizens, Hamas leaders on our watch won’t get suitcases with dollars, they will get a guided missile into their home.”

Perhaps – and it’s a stretch – Lapid can be forgiven his over-the-top enthusiasm for military action and targeted assassinations. Like Liberman before him, he has no army experience to draw on or understanding of the limits of military power. But Gantz and Ashkenazi? They really should know better.

After all, Ashkenazi was IDF chief of general staff during Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in 2008, while Gantz held the same position during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, when the defense minister for this follow-up campaign against Hamas was none other than the Blue and White’s No. 3, Moshe Ya’alon.

Despite the mass destruction of Gazan infrastructure and the thousands of Palestinians killed in these two rounds of fighting, Hamas is still very much in charge in the Gaza Strip. Neither of these two military campaigns fundamentally changed the political reality on Israel’s southern border, and the leaders of Blue and White know this. If there is to be a solution to the situation in Gaza, it will not come about through military means or an Israeli reoccupation of the Strip.

Of course, this is not a message that’s easy to tell the residents of Sderot. They rightly want to know that they can go to bed without having to worry about having 15 seconds to make it to the protection of their bomb shelter when a red alert goes off in the middle of the night. This is where real leadership comes to the fore.

Instead of spouting the aggressive, militaristic platitudes that Sderot residents have heard to no positive effect from all Israeli leaders beginning with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – Gantz, Lapid, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi could and should have taken a different tack. While pledging their determination to ensure Sderot residents can live a normal, peaceful life – the right of every Israeli citizen – they should have focused their speeches on improving the region’s socioeconomic standing.

If they are to win next month’s elections, or at least prevent Netanyahu from reaching a right-wing-plus-haredi (ultra-Orthodox) bloc of 61 Knesset seats or more, Blue and White has to attract voters away from Netanyahu’s Likud. Trying to outdo the Likud by making bombastic security statements is not the way to do so. The prime minister can always outflank them from the Right.

But Netanyahu is vulnerable on other issues, particularly the stench of corruption surrounding him and his determination to put personal survival ahead of the national interest, regardless of the price he has to pay his haredi coalition partners to remain in power, money which could be put to better uses. While most Likud voters will stick with the Likud through thick and thin, there are those who now believe the time has come for change – for the good of the country.

It is these voters who Blue and White need to attract. Making empty threats against Hamas is not going to convince them. These elections focus solely on Netanyahu’s suitability or unsuitability to govern. This is the target Blue and White’s top brass should be aiming at. Anything else is simply wasted ammunition.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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