Analysis: Military op ends, election campaign begins

PM had a difficult tight rope to walk, so soon before elections.

Netanyahu and Barak at Iron Dome site 390 (photo credit: GPO / Amos Ben-Gershom)
Netanyahu and Barak at Iron Dome site 390
(photo credit: GPO / Amos Ben-Gershom)
In his statement to the nation Wednesday night announcing the acceptance of a cease-fire deal with Hamas in the south, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu effectively ended an eight-day military campaign and began an election one.
And the words he chose to tell the nation that the fighting with Hamas has – at least temporarily – ended, also foreshadowed what will be the theme of his campaign: providing security while retaining international support and avoiding an all out war.
When Netanyahu opened the winter session of the Knesset in October by calling for new elections, he stressed that during his tenure security had been restored to Israel as far fewer rockets fell, and far fewer Israelis were killed by terrorism, than under his immediate predecessors.

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Further, he stressed, in the seven-and-a-half years total that he has served as prime minister, both during his first term and his second, the nation did not march off to war.
By agreeing to a cease-fire, Netanyahu kept this record intact, and it is a record that flies squarely in the face of the perception held of him by many abroad as a reckless warmonger with an impatient trigger finger.
But that perception is not born of reality, nor the one he wants to take into the campaign. Tough but responsible, yes; Dirty Harry with the Middle East’s most powerful army, definitely not.
“Since its establishment, the State of Israel has faced complex challenges in the Middle East, and in recent years we have all seen how that complexity has increased a great deal,” Netanyahu said Wednesday night.
“Under these conditions we need to steer the ship of state responsibly and with wisdom and must take into account numerous considerations, both military and diplomatic ones. That is how a responsible government acts, and that is how we acted this time as well. We employed military might along with diplomatic judgment.”
And there is the likely theme of his campaign – military might with diplomatic prudence, restoring quiet, albeit temporarily, while retaining international legitimacy.
His statement Wednesday night was also punctuated with praise for US President Barack Obama’s unwavering support, a sentiment surely heartfelt. It is also a sentiment that he wants the electorate to hear just two months before an election: “I can, and do, work with the US president effectively.”
The cease-fire that went into effect Wednesday night, putting an end to the latest round of fighting, will be met in the country with a mixture of relief and anxiety.
The relief is the fact that it will put an end to a dreadful week in which six Israelis were killed, hundreds wounded, a million people were confined to a few seconds from their bomb shelters, and millions more carried on with their lives under the threat of a rocket landing on their car, home or kids’ school. At times like these, a return to routine seems blessed.
The anxiety is because of a widespread recognition that this cease-fire is just the temporary lull before the next round. Operation Cast Lead bought a degree of deterrence and quiet for four years. The hope is that Operation Pillar of Defense will have done the same.
Netanyahu had a difficult tightrope to walk so soon before the election. On the one hand, he needed to restore a modicum of security to his citizens. On the other hand, he did not want – just weeks before the vote – to risk a full-fledged war that could easily sour and be used against him.
In a mere two months, the public will determine whether he succeeded in that task.