One year of Bennett's Israel: The Octopus doctrine, terror and a budget

A year into Israel’s current coalition, like in every government, nothing has been perfect – especially in terms of security and terrorism.

  Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Tanach learning track meeting at Ben-Gurion House in Tel Aviv, May 31, 2022. (photo credit: NOAM RIVKIN-PANTON/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Tanach learning track meeting at Ben-Gurion House in Tel Aviv, May 31, 2022.
(photo credit: NOAM RIVKIN-PANTON/FLASH90)

It’s been a year since Israelis breathed a sigh of relief as Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid announced they had formed a coalition government, bringing an end to four rounds of general elections that divided the country.

The Bennett government, sworn in on June 13, 2021, ousted former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years in office. The new coalition brought together parties that had never before partnered in Israeli politics. There was hope by many that this government would bring about necessary changes.

A year into Israel’s current coalition, as with every government, nothing has been perfect, especially in terms of security and terrorism.

While there have been some failures on the part of the Bennett-led coalition, it has also been able to get some work done, like passing an extremely important budget.

The IDF and Defense Ministry did not have a budget for three years, which drastically affected their readiness to confront threats like those posed by Iran and terrorist groups in Gaza.

A RALLY takes place in Gaza, organized by Hamas in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, last year. The harder Israel hits the Palestinian people, the stronger Hamas becomes, says the writer. (credit: ATIA MOHAMMED/FLASH90)A RALLY takes place in Gaza, organized by Hamas in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, last year. The harder Israel hits the Palestinian people, the stronger Hamas becomes, says the writer. (credit: ATIA MOHAMMED/FLASH90)

The Israel Democracy Institute’s latest monthly Israeli Voice Index assessed public perception of how well the government has done in some key areas.

According to the study, those who voted for coalition parties lean slightly more toward positive assessments as opposed to opposition voters who clearly tend to the negative.

Nevertheless, “this month’s findings regarding both the future of democratic rule in Israel and the future of Israel’s national security indicate a subdued national mood, to say the least,” the report said. “In fact, the share of optimists in both categories is one of the lowest we have found since beginning our measurements three years ago.”

The study found that the last 12 months have seen a decline in the public’s optimism about national security and “less than 40% of Jews, and around half this proportion of Arabs, are optimistic about the future of Israel’s national security.”

In June 2021, when the government was sworn in, 54% of Israelis were optimistic about national security. In April 2022, that number plummeted to 38%.

Deadly terrorist attacks have recently claimed the lives of more than 20 Israelis. Iran and its proxies continue to threaten Israel, and violence in the Arab sector – especially in the South – is still out of control.

During Netanyahu’s dozen years in office, rampant gun violence in the Arab sector was ignored. By refusing to address the issue, criminals were allowed to run wild and murders plagued Israel’s Arab community.

The number of homicides has risen dramatically over the past decade. Arabs account for close to 70% of all homicides in Israel, despite the fact that they represent only 20% of the population. And the number of illegal weapons on the streets in Israel is catastrophic.

According to GunPolicy.org, in 2017 there were an estimated 267,000 illegal weapons in Israel. By 2020, that number had close to doubled, with a Knesset estimate reporting some 400,000 illegal weapons circulating around the country.

THE HIGH NUMBER of illicit arms was not confined to Israeli Arab communities but led to blood being spilled in Jewish cities as well.

The two Arab Israelis linked to Islamic State who carried out the deadly terrorist attack in Hadera in March arrived at the scene with 1,100 bullets and numerous firearms and knives.

Though the police have begun to crack down on the illegal weaponry and the military has been intercepting arms smuggled across the country’s borders (including from Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt), they haven’t recovered much equipment.

Under Netanyahu, during the four election cycles, the Israeli military had to divert funds, carry out internal cuts and make changes in priorities. The IDF was also unable to purchase the amount of munitions that were needed, upgrade basic infrastructure for ground forces or plan additional projects.

Lack of a budget also made it difficult to carry out key defensive projects, including the border wall with Lebanon and improved shelters for the home front, especially in the North.

Under the previous government, the military and defense establishment also turned a blind eye to the countless holes in the West Bank border fence.

Though some of the reasoning behind ignoring such obvious lapses was that it allowed Palestinian workers illegally crossing into Israel to work. However, it also permitted numerous terrorists to cross into the country.

This Netanyahu-era policy led to the deaths of 11 Israelis since March. The Palestinian terrorists who carried out the attacks in Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak and Elad had all crossed through holes in the security fence.

In response to pressure from the Israeli public, Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered that the fence be repaired, and the IDF deployed thousands of soldiers and reservists to the Seam Line.

The military also began cracking down on Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank with an operation dubbed “Break the Wave,” arresting more than a 1,000 suspects and confiscating dozens of weapons and hundreds of millions of shekels of terrorist funds.

Troops are also carrying out raids in Palestinian cities like Jenin, not only at night but in broad daylight.

As the government celebrates its first anniversary, it seems as though it has gotten a handle on this current wave of violence. Until the next one. And there will be a next one.

Meanwhile, the government has increased its offensive operations against Israel’s enemies including its war-between-wars campaign (Mabam in Hebrew) against Iran.

According to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, Israel has ramped up the campaign.

In the past two months alone, Israel has carried out a double-digit number of strikes throughout the Middle East as part of the campaign, which is not only on Israel’s northern front, but according to foreign reports, also against targets in Iran and Iraq.

Four Iranians tied to the country’s nuclear program or Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have also died under mysterious circumstances, and one was kidnapped in the capital of Tehran, all in the past month – all in incidents blamed on Israel.

“The past year saw a turning point in Israel’s strategy vis-à-vis Iran,” Bennett told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week. “In the past year, the State of Israel has taken action against the head of the terrorist octopus and not just against the arms as was done in previous decades.

“The days of immunity – in which Iran attacks Israel and spreads terrorism via its regional proxies but remains unscathed – are over. We are taking action, everywhere, at any time, and will continue to do so.”

While not everything has been perfect, under Bennett, the government is going to the root of terrorism, be it in Jenin or Tehran.

And for that, Israeli citizens from all political leanings should be grateful.