Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked address the media, November 19, 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A wild and chaotic week in Israeli politics appeared to end Monday as Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said they would not leave the government – just yet. It capped a roller coaster ride since a botched operation near Khan Yunis last week led to the death of an IDF officer and Hamas rocket fire.
The result of the rocket fire was a new ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza, which led Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to quit, claiming Israel had “capitulated” to terror. Bennett said he should be appointed defense minister and it appeared that he would leave the government if his wishes were not fulfilled. But Netanyahu called Bennett’s bluff, claiming that the country must not play politics with security.
Bennett appears to have taken the high road and acquiesced to Netanyahu’s assertion that it is more important to have a stable government now.
“We are removing all political demands and standing here to help Israel win again,” Bennett said.
In his comments to the nation Sunday night, the prime minister hinted at a “sensitive security situation.” But Bennett on Monday stated that the situation wasn’t any more sensitive than it usually is.
The larger struggle Israel has been facing over the last year is the rise of Iranian threats in Syria and Iran’s support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Jerusalem has warned again and again that Iran is building bases in Lebanon and laying the groundwork for rocket factories and other sites. To contend with that, Israel has launched more than 200 air strikes in the past few years.
But that is not enough: the enemy grows more brazen with every turn and more arrogant in its pronouncements. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps routinely boasts that its arms now reach the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Brig.-Gen. Hossein Salami told an audience that the IRGC and Hezbollah have become a “nightmare” for Israel at a speech at Damghan University in early November.
Iran’s role requires Israel devote resources to confronting the octopus of threats that emerge from Tehran. Jerusalem is not alone in this. The US has said that Iran must leave Syria and US officials have asserted that this must include proxies and Iranian-commanded forces. The US is prepared to stay in eastern Syria until Tehran complies. This is important because the US not only says that Iran must leave Syria, but that Washington understands that Iran’s threat is to Israel and also Jordan, as well as other allies. This is part of a wider security framework in which Israel is engaged, and it is this larger strategy that must be understood.
Israel’s adversaries want to test the country and exploit its internal political divisions. Democratic countries always face this type of challenge. Unlike dictatorships, they have differing opinions and opposition parties. But Israel’s enemies must understand that security is not a political issue for Jerusalem. Whoever is in office, whenever elections may come, Israeli security forces and Israel’s allies will always be prepared for a harsh response against any threat.
If Netanyahu and Bennett are being sincere, and we hope that they are, then they are putting the country’s security ahead of their political ambitions or considerations. There are serious concerns about Netanyahu taking on the Defense portfolio in addition to his multitude of responsibilities, especially with all the security challenges Israel faces. But if he seeks wise counsel and listens to the military and intelligence echelon, Israel should not suffer for it in the short term.
The last few days have been a challenge for the country, from the near war with Gaza and scenes of Hamas celebrating Liberman’s resignation to the near collapse of the still teetering coalition.
But Israelis know something about perseverance. At the same time, the residents of the South must have security. Netanyahu, who senses he has emerged victorious from the contretemps with Bennett, should build on that confidence, visit the South, listen to the residents’ concerns and reassure them. The larger regional challenges do not mean that local people are less important.
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