The most recent round of fighting between Palestinians and Israel began against the background of the reaction of the Islamic Jihad to the death of one of its members, Khader Adnan, in an Israeli prison after an 86-day hunger strike. The reaction of the Islamic Jihad was a barrage of rockets to the Gaza Strip envelope and beyond, to which Israel reacted by immediately targeting three Islamic Jihad leaders, who were killed simultaneously, and various Islamic Jihad installations. Additional direct hits of leaders followed.
To the best of our knowledge, the current round of fighting was not planned in advance by Israel, and therefore, one cannot honestly accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to extricate himself and his government from the multi-faceted crisis in which they find themselves by carrying out the operation.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the timing of the operation is fortuitous for Netanyahu. Netanyahu is at his best in such situations and has regained some of his decisiveness, control and focus that he appeared to have lost in recent months, which resulted in a steep decline in his popularity in the opinion polls.
This resulted from problems of discipline within his government, and the rather catastrophic consequences of the legal reform/revolution that his Justice Minister, Yariv Levin, has been promoting since the government was formed in the beginning of January, despite his own qualms and reservations.
Already Netanyahu has started picking up in the polls. After the catastrophe of threatening to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant several weeks ago for criticizing the legal reform, he is now working in tandem with him. Two of several unruly ministers in his government, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who sought roles for themselves in Israel’s military affairs, have been pushed to the sidelines – at least for the time being.
So where are we heading?
On Friday, the organizers of the demonstrations on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, or at least part of them, announced that the massive weekly Saturday night demonstration against the government’s planned legal reform/revolution would not take place, since a ceasefire had not yet been declared and the possibility could not be excluded that rockets would be shot in the direction of the center of Tel Aviv before a ceasefire went into force. The organizers did not want to endanger the lives of demonstrators should a rocket fall in their midst.
However, because the organizers of the demonstration are not a completely homogeneous group, some groups of demonstrators nevertheless turned out for the 19th consecutive week. Since the demonstrators carried both Israeli and Palestinian flags, one may assume that they represented the more radical forces within the demonstration movement.
I BELIEVE that whether or not there was an actual danger of rockets falling in the center of Tel Aviv, the demonstration should have been canceled, if for no other reason than that irrespective of how we perceive the current round of fighting in and around the Gaza Strip, this is the time to demonstrate national unity, at least until life returns to normal.
Incidentally, I found singer Aviv Gefen’s decision to hold his planned performance in front of an audience of some 40,000 fans in Yarkon Park last Thursday to have been in bad taste. One part of the population should not be enjoying a rock concert while another part is in a state of constant anxiety that at any moment it might be called upon to run to secure spaces should color-red alarm sirens go off.
I thought that the decision was particularly in bad taste, since many persons in the periphery, for whom Channel 13 reporter in the south, Almog Boker, appears to serve as a mouthpiece, have expressed their feeling that there is one attitude and set of rules for Tel Aviv and different ones for the settlements in the Gaza Envelope.
How things will develop after the current round is over largely depends on the line Netanyahu will decide to follow. Will he choose to return to the situation in which every few days he is blackmailed by Ben-Gvir and to a lesser extent Smotrich, by the ultra-Orthodox ministers, and/or by disgruntled members of his own party, or will he continue to put his foot down, as he has been doing in the last few days? Since he must get the budget for 2023-24 approved by the Knesset by the end of the month (if he doesn’t, new elections will have to be called) he probably doesn’t have much room to maneuver at the moment.
Will this situation involve returning to an aggressive implementation of the legal reform/revolution, which will involve an abrupt end to the attempts to arrive at a compromise with the opposition under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog, or instead bringing the original reform plan to an absolute halt? Supposedly Netanyahu’s choices will depend on how he can best utilize his renewed popularity ,even if brief.
The opposition will also have to decide how to proceed, based on what Netanyahu will choose to do. Yair Lapid will undoubtedly try to regain some of the ground he lost to Benny Gantz in recent weeks and how he will decide to do this is anyone’s guess.
The fact that part of the organizers of the demonstrations are considering forming a new party could also affect how the game is played, though from the 2011 cottage cheese demonstrations we learned that successful leaders of demonstrators do not necessarily make effective politicians.
However, irrespective of what shape the new developments will take, I believe that the rehabilitation of the reputation of the reserve pilots in right-wing circles is of great importance. For several weeks now, the pilots have been called service refuseniks and condemned by members of the coalition for having warned that if the planned legal revolution will go through and Israel will turn into a dictatorship, they will refuse to turn up for their voluntary reserve training.
In Operation Shield and Arrow, these men have constituted a large part (perhaps even a majority) of the pilots responsible for the effective attacks on the Islamic Jihad and its leaders. They deserve sincere apologies from Communications Minister of Shlomo Karhi, who recently said to them to go to hell, Information Minister Galit Distal Atbaryan who insulted them, and even the prime minister himself who spoke of them derogatorily.
The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published last summer.