On Monday, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador to Amman for a reprimand. A day earlier, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich spoke at a gathering in Paris and declared that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people while the podium was draped in a map of Israel that included the territory of modern-day Jordan.
On Tuesday, the US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman summoned Israel’s ambassador to the US, Mike Herzog, for a reprimand after the Knesset passed legislation to repeal the 2005 disengagement law, paving the way for the resettlement of northern Samaria and maybe even the Gaza Strip, something for which some cabinet ministers publicly expressed hope.
Both of these reprimands – from close allies – came just days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was personally reprimanded over the judicial reforms by President Joe Biden in a phone call and by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a visit to Berlin. On Friday, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London who officials predict will also voice some concern for Israel’s democratic character but not before the Israeli leader had to tweet that Israel will not advance laws against Christians.
In other words, if it wasn’t enough that Israel was fighting with all of the Western world, it might as well also fight with Christianity.
The picture is clear and there is no other way to say this: Israel, today, is becoming increasingly isolated. While Netanyahu has been visiting a different European capital almost every week, sometimes it seems like he might have actually preferred skipping the trips altogether after each dress down.
On the other hand, it is his only way to get away from a country that seems to be falling apart. Besides the 250,000 people who are coming out each week to protest, the shekel is crashing, hi-tech investors are balking and diplomatic fires are being lit on a daily basis, which no matter how talented your firemen are, they can’t put out so many blazes at the same time.
If all that wasn’t bad enough, the two invitations Netanyahu wanted to receive by now – from the US and the United Arab Emirates – are not coming and it is not because of Israel’s notorious postal service.
Both countries are not extending invitations to Netanyahu and Likud members are openly admitting that Israeli-American ties – alongside Israeli-Jordanian ties, Israeli-Moroccan ties and Israeli-Emirati ties – are all now in a state of crisis.
In a different country, this would be a problem; when it is Israel, this becomes an issue with potentially critical and existential consequences.
ISRAEL IS not just like any country. Unlike Finland, Sweden or Australia, Israel is – against its desire – constantly engaged in conflict. As a result, it is in need of international support to not only fight but to prevent negative diplomatic moves in international institutions.
Take, for example, a scenario that Israel is again engaged in a protracted conflict with Hamas or Hezbollah after which it requires the replenishment of its smart bomb stockpiles. Will an administration that thinks Jerusalem has gone off the rails be willing to approve those orders like in the past? Will it veto the Security Council resolution that follows the conflict and calls on Israel to cease all its military activities and even withdraw to the 1967 lines in the West Bank?
Now apply that same thinking to Iran, which – as seen by recent revelations – is on the verge of obtaining the amount of enriched uranium it requires for a nuclear device. The uranium particles enriched to 84% leave little doubt – if anyone still had some – of what the Iranians are up to.
Imagine that Israel will decide in the year to come that it has no choice but to take unilateral military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities on the assumption – which is widely shared in the IDF – that the Air Force can cause enough damage to key nuclear facilities to set the Iranian nuclear program back by a couple of years.
But the operational capability question is only one of the questions Israel must ask itself before a strike. There is another question: Can Israel do it without the United States? It may have the operational capability but will it be able to do it without diplomatic support?
What we need to remember is that even if an aerial bombing is successful, the Iranians will rebuild, especially considering they have indigenous know-how and expertise which no missile has yet to figure out how to destroy. Unlike in 1981 in Iraq and 2007 in Syria, Iran will not require foreign assistance to rebuild its reactors. It can do it on its own.
Since a strike will not obliterate the program and the opportunity to rebuild it will exist, Israel will need the US to prevent that from happening. America will be needed to either ratchet up sanctions to stop Iran from rebuilding its program or even guarantee that Israel’s military continues to be prepared with the necessary means if a follow-up attack is required.
In other words, while an attack would be important, it alone will not be enough.
Israel cannot afford for this situation to continue. It is a country that is highly dependent on its diplomatic ties, not to mention how much its economy relies on the global market. It will not be able to sustain a deterioration in ties that ends up drawing economic consequences, as well.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows all of this, which raises the question of why is he letting the situation deteriorate. He knows that almost every time Itamar Ben-Gvir or Bezalel Smotrich open their mouths, there is a new diplomatic crisis with another one of Israel’s allies around the world.
This is why, to many people, the questions they are asking are not what happened to Israel but rather what happened to Netanyahu, to where has he disappeared and why does it seem like he has outsourced Israel’s diplomatic and security standing to some of the country’s most extreme forces.
It is time he retakes control of the country and stabilizes the situation. This is no longer just about the judicial reform and how Israel will appoint Supreme Court justices, this is about the greatest potential existential threat that Israel faces and how it will be stopped. It is time for the country to get its act together.
Netanyahu's government messed up by putting judicial reform first
Six days after the establishment of the government, Justice Minister Yariv Levin convened the media to roll out his judicial overhaul plan. At the time, he spoke about the need for three pieces of legislation: changes to the judicial appointment committee, an override bill and a provision that will prohibit the High Court from hearing appeals against Basic Laws.
Three days later, protests began. First, there was a demonstration at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, where 20,000 people defiantly stood in the rain, but quickly the uprising spread to other parts of Tel Aviv and the rest of the country.
What brought people out to the streets was not just the speed with which Levin rolled out his plan but also its aggressive nature. It was like a hostile takeover without even a small attempt to ease the blow.
This is all worth keeping in mind after the coalition announced this week that it has decided to temporarily shelve two of the bills and will now be advancing only a more moderate version of the judicial appointments reform. While the law is still a dangerous precedent, it is nothing like the combination of all three laws at once.
Had the government started working on the issues that really matter to Israelis – security, the cost of living and jobs – and then later rolled out the single law about judicial appointments, it is unlikely that the country would be as roiled as it is today and that people would be taking to the streets like they are on an almost daily basis.
This was a complete miscalculation by Netanyahu and his government. And that is the question: How did Netanyahu and Levin not understand this and see it happening? They are both experienced and should have understood that such an aggressive approach would only bring chaos.
There is no single answer but it seems to be that the government was motivated by a mix of vengeance, hubris and ideology. It wanted to stick it to the court, remove the judicial obstacle to its political plans and it thought it could do it without the public making a sound.
The government was wrong and only has itself to blame.