Campaigners and politicians on the Right are scrambling to counter Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s perceived success in Operation Breaking Dawn.
Lapid and Gantz received high approval ratings for their roles in the Gaza operation, which began August 5 and lasted for three days.
A poll by Channel 12 conducted immediately after the operation ended found that 68% of Israeli voters, including 70% of voters who identify with the Right, thought that Lapid’s handling of the operation was satisfactory. Gantz’s approval rating for his handling of the operation was even higher at 73%, with more right-wing voters (77%) expressing support than left-wing voters (70%).
In addition, 31% of voters thought Lapid was more suitable than opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu to serve as prime minister versus Netanyahu’s 42%, the narrowest gap between the two that polls have shown so far.
Gantz also gained in suitability for the role of prime minister, with 23% of voters believing he was more suitable than Netanyahu, versus the Likud leader’s 43%.
A poll by Maariv published on Friday also showed the effects of the operation on the national electorate. Likud was projected to lose a seat, winning 33 instead of 34 in the previous poll, and Lapid’s Yesh Atid gained two seats, from 23 to 25. The eight-seat difference is the smallest yet in any poll taken since the election was announced on June 20.
The Right is using three main arguments to counter the success of Netanyahu’s two challengers in the polls.
Held hostage by Ra'am?
The first is that Lapid and Gantz would not have been able to launch the operation if not for the fact that the country is headed to an election and the Israeli-Arab coalition party Ra’am no longer has any political leverage. If the coalition was still functioning, they say, Ra’am would have prevented the operation by threatening to leave the coalition.
This proves that a government’s dependence on votes from an Arab party can seriously handicap its ability to defend Israeli citizens, the argument goes. Since neither Lapid nor Gantz can form a government without the support of at least Ra’am, and perhaps even the Joint List, they contend that a right-wing coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu is the only one that can guarantee Israel’s safety.
Tactical success, strategic mistake
THE SECOND argument is that while the operation was a tactical success, it was a strategic mistake. Israel managed to cause serious damage to Palestinian Islamic Jihad both in Gaza and the West Bank, but by doing so it strengthened Hamas, which is far stronger than Islamic Jihad and is Israel’s true Palestinian adversary, the argument goes.
In the days leading up to the operation, Hamas reportedly sent messages to Israel indicating that it would not intervene if Israel decided to attack. However, Hamas also did nothing to stop Islamic Jihad from shooting some 1,200 rockets at Israel and shutting down life in the Gaza border area for nearly a week.
Israel has repeatedly stated that it sees Hamas as being responsible for anything that happens on Gazan soil. In this case, however, the terrorist group was let off the hook and was even rewarded for its “good behavior” when Israel decided to reopen the Gaza border crossings for fuel and goods on Monday morning, just hours after the ceasefire came into effect.
Hamas will now be able to paint Islamic Jihad as a rival, irresponsible group and itself as the legitimate ruler of Gaza. It might even attempt to use this as a tool in its struggle against Fatah for influence in the West Bank.
According to the argument on the Right, the operation was thus a strategic mistake, since it is in Israel’s interest to strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction in the West Bank and weaken Hamas.
This shows that Lapid does not have the strategic analysis skills that are necessary as prime minister. Netanyahu, in contrast, is a veteran of the elite Sayeret Matkal Unit and is an experienced, proven national security strategist, and therefore should be prime minister.
The good of the country
The third argument is that the opposition gave the government full support during Operation Breaking Dawn and proved that it put the good of the country before its political aspirations.
In contrast, Lapid and other current coalition party leaders attacked Netanyahu last May during Operation Guardian of the Walls. The opposition then, led by Lapid, claimed in real time that Netanyahu had launched the military campaign for political gain, and criticized him repeatedly for his conduct throughout the operation.
This shows who really cares about the good of the country, the argument continues. While the Center-Left parties did not hesitate to criticize and undermine a sitting prime minister during a security operation for their own political gain, the Right gave its full support from the opposition despite the upcoming election.
Time will tell if the arguments end up being effective. In any case, the 80 days still to go until the election are an eternity in campaign terms – and by the time voting comes around, Operation Breaking Dawn could be a distant memory.