Right from wrong: Israel’s battle on the ‘home front’

Anyone following the political chaos of the past six months could have predicted it would take a miracle to prevent a third round of Knesset elections.

AN IRON DOME antimissile system is installed near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Golan Heights  (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
AN IRON DOME antimissile system is installed near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Golan Heights
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
Blue and White Party chairman Benny Gantz’s announcement on Wednesday evening that he was returning his coalition-building mandate to President Reuven Rivlin came as little surprise. Anyone following the political chaos of the past six months, particularly that which ensued when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to cobble together a government, could have predicted that it would take a miracle to prevent a third round of Knesset elections.
This is chiefly due to Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose ill-deserved role as “king-maker” seems to have caused him such megalomaniacal pleasure that he’s decided to try to hold on to the title indefinitely.
This, too, might have been anticipated.
Indeed, as nausea-inducing as all the above has been, none of it has elicited gasps of shock. The Israeli public has come to expect the worst of its politicians, after all. It also has grown increasingly disillusioned with an electoral system that enables small parties such as Liberman’s to dictate terms to their larger counterparts, and abuse their disproportionate power to topple governments at will.
Nothing new about that.
SOMETHING JAW-DROPPING certainly has been taking place, however, which explains precisely why Netanyahu has been the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history. In the past two weeks alone – with the threat of indictments by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit hanging over his head and a justified fear of Gantz forging a narrow coalition with outside bolstering from the anti-Zionist Arab parties – Netanyahu has been fighting a war on two fronts against Iran. And with a newly appointed defense minister, Naftali Bennett, to boot.
On Tuesday night, for example, the Israel Air Force (IAF) attacked more than 20 crucial military targets in Syria. One of these was the National Defense Building. Nicknamed the “Glass House,” it serves as the intelligence headquarters of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The IAF mission was undertaken in retaliation for four Iranian-made rockets fired on the Golan Heights during the early hours of Tuesday morning. The projectiles were launched by a Shi’ite Syrian militia group operating under the auspices of and funded by the Quds Force.
The launching site was located some 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) south of Damascus, in the area beyond the Israeli border that Russian President Vladimir Putin had promised Netanyahu to keep free of Iranian proxies or troops.
Interestingly, Israeli defense and diplomatic officials met with their Russian counterparts in Moscow on Tuesday and informed them of the imminent strikes on Iranian targets in Syria. Nevertheless, Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov responded on Wednesday by calling the Israeli attack a “wrong move” that is in “stark contrast” to international law. Given Putin’s ongoing coordination with Netanyahu in relation to Israeli airstrikes against Hezbollah and other Iranian forces, Bogdanov’s reaction was probably a tactical one, aimed at appeasing Syrian President Bashar Assad and the mullahs who helped keep him in power.
It is safe to say that the Iranian rockets – which thankfully were intercepted by the Iron Dome, and therefore did not cause any Israeli casualties – were launched in response to recent military actions in Syria and Iraq attributed to or acknowledged by the IDF. Last week’s targeted assassination of Iran-backed Islamic Jihad commander Bahaa Abu al-Ata in Gaza and surgical strike on the home of Akram al-Ajouri, the group’s deputy chief in Syria, sparked massive rocket barrages into Israeli population centers, sending civilians across the country into bomb shelters for days.
This, in turn, prompted the IDF to launch additional airstrikes on targets in Gaza, including an Islamic Jihad training facility and underground munitions factory.
THE ABOVE moves were part of Netanyahu’s broader strategy to make good on his warning to the ayatollah-led regime in Tehran – which continues to vow to wipe the Jewish state off the map – that Israel can and will defend itself against Iran, with or without US troops on the ground in Syria, and whether or not Jerusalem is in the throes of a political stalemate.
The message that Israel will fight Iran wherever it operates – which Bennett echoed on Wednesday after the airstrikes in Syria – is one that Netanyahu has ramped up recently, even while desperately trying, and subsequently failing, to form a coalition. He returned his mandate to do so on October 22, two days ahead of the deadline.
Nine days later, on October 31 – while continuing to engage in multi-front battles for his personal and political future – the technically “interim” prime minister addressed graduates of the IDF Ground Forces officers’ course. During his speech to the men and women in uniform, he made a veiled reference to American inaction in the face of Iranian aggression against US and Saudi assets in the Persian Gulf.
“Iran’s brazenness in the region is increasing and even getting stronger in light of the absence of a response,” he said. “But Israel won’t turn the other cheek” to the many threats that are “popping up in every corner – in Syria, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and also in Iraq, in Yemen and directly in Iran... We’re prepared for the threats and we won’t hesitate to land a tough blow on whomever tries to harm us.”
As has been the case with his previous public statements on the perilous reach of the Islamic Republic and the race it appears to be winning to obtain nuclear weapons, this one was not an election ploy. Until Wednesday evening, when Gantz conceded that he was unable to form a government, Netanyahu was no longer a candidate running for office. His campaign at that point did not involve the garnering of public support or the tally of ballots. It was all about making deals with the heads of other parties whose electoral strength in the form of Knesset seats was determined in September. This was after the April 9 elections ended in a deadlock that resulted in the disbanding of the Knesset.
In other words, contrary to his detractors’ claim that he “only cares about remaining at Balfour” – the name of the street on which the Prime Minister’s Residence is located – he has shown in word and deed that he is not slacking off, even temporarily, where his determination to confront the country’s greatest existential threat is concerned. It takes some kind of master to maneuver the cockamamie Israeli political system, defend himself against politically motivated criminal charges and battle Iran all at the same time. But Netanyahu somehow has managed to do just that.
IRONICALLY, AMONG his most ardent critics are Israelis who do not realize that the luxury they enjoy to worry about the religious-secular divide, healthcare, welfare, education, housing, traffic jams – not to mention the high cost of cappuccino – is due to a sense of security. Residents of the South, who live under constant Iranian-backed rocket-fire, are not as fortunate. But many of them grasp that they would be worse off without the guy in bed “at Balfour,” who loses sleep over Tehran’s tentacles slithering their way to, along and around Israel’s borders.
This is not to say that Netanyahu, however indefatigable, is undefeatable. The fact is that he was twice unable to form a government. Furthermore, as is evident elsewhere in the world, leaders seem to wear out their welcome after a decade at the helm. Netanyahu may or may not be an exception to that unwritten rule.
It is possible that the current situation, a historic first in Israeli history, will lead to a long overdue reform of the electoral system, including term limits, and the creation of a proper constitution. In the meantime, as the law stands, the mandate to form a government is now in the hands of the Knesset, any of whose members with the backing of at least 61 parliamentarians would be given the task to do so. In the highly unlikely event that such a candidate emerges, he or she will have 21 days to succeed where Netanyahu and Gantz failed.
What this means in simple terms is that a third round of elections, reportedly scheduled for March 3, is unavoidable. All those disgruntled voters who are insisting that they will boycott the ballot box, particularly in view of polls suggesting that the outcome will be no different from that which brought us to today’s sorry state of affairs, should reconsider.
Rather than expressing disdain by disguising it as apathy, we need to break the impasse by voting for one of the two major parties – Likud or Blue and White – and resist the impulse to opt for some notion of ideological purity that small factions promise, but do not possess.
Liberman certainly doesn’t deserve to be rewarded for holding the country hostage to his antics – not with Iran on the doorstep.