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This is a war of choice. Netanyahu's choice

Netanyahu is no hero, and the tragedy is our own.

Prime Minister Netanyahu fired Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon on Tuesday, after the latter criticized Netanyahu for holding fire, and even called him “a lefty,” which is probably the worst thing you can say to someone in the current political atmosphere. Sacking Danon is not a risky move (Danon is a far-right politician with little parliamentary support), but firing him helped Netanyahu present himself as “moderate” and “restrained” leader. Yossi Verter says similar things in Haaretzas does Ron Ben-Yishai in Ynet; even I wrote a few good things about this aspect of Bibi’s persona in the past. It’s time to revisit this idea.

Bibi may seem restrained in times of war when compared to leaders like Ariel Sharon (the first Lebanon War), Shimon Peres (Lebanon, 1996) and perhaps Ehud Olmert (Lebanon 2007, Gaza 2008), as all three believed that one can re-shape geopolitical realities through military campaigns. Netanyahu is a little more suspicious of this theory, which is one of his positive qualities. Yet the dead bodies he is leaving behind are beginning to pile up, and frustration over the army’s failure to stop the rockets in the current campaign result in carrying out terrible ideas, such as forcing 100,000 people out of their homes, or moving from using guided missiles to field artillery in this heavily populated area. Fish in a barrel have nowhere to run to; neither do civilians in Gaza. It’s enough for one Israeli bomb to fall on a crowd of those new refugees in order for a moral and political catastrophe to take place. In fact, this is already taking place.

Palestinians inspect the damage of destroyed homes, Gaza City, July 14, 2014.

Palestinians inspect the damage of destroyed homes, Gaza City, July 14, 2014.

But the heart of the matter is this: Netanyahu has a major stake in the process that has brought us here. This is something the national conversation in Israel completely ignores. Throughout his career, Bibi has simply been unwilling to take any concrete measures vis-à-vis the Palestinians that do not include military force. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas are pretty much the same. Any gain by either one of them is a loss to Israel. It’s always a zero sum game.

It’s only logical that there will always be someone on the other side that will conclude that the only way to penetrate this curtain of denial and indifference is also through violence.

Hamas is not stupid. It understands all too well that Israel can cause Gaza unimaginable damage. It knows that targeted assassinations conducted by Israel make survival rates among the heads of the party fairly low, and that their families are also at risk. But Hamas has its back to the wall. For two months, Israel has been preventing the transfer of funds that would go to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in Gaza; the party’s political leadership in the West Bank was arrested following the murder of the three Israeli teens; and even prisoners who were released as part of the Shalit deal found themselves behind bars. At this point, the cost and benefit balance for Hamas begins to change, and opening fire on a much stronger adversary becomes a reasonable choice. Then Israel has the right, even the duty, to retaliate; and this is how we end up where we are.

> Click here for +972’s full coverage of the Gaza war

I heard several security experts and pundits say this week that Abbas should be the solution for Gaza; that a way should be found to give him authority there. The head of the Institute for Strategic Studies, retired Gen. Amos Yadlin, said as much on Channel 2, and news analyst for the Arab world, Ehud Ya’ari, seemed to agree. Shlomi Eldar from Channel 10 wrote something similar on Al-Monitor. Incredible. Two months ago the Palestinians formed a Hamas-supported government that rejected violence and recognized Israel. Instead of giving it a chance, Bibi boycotted it. Now they think that sending Abbas to Gaza on an Israeli tank is the way to go. Well, good luck with that.

At least Netanyahu is consistent. In his first term as prime minister he stopped the Oslo process and refused to meet Arafat. After three days of shooting between Israelis and Palestinians in 1996, he changed his mind and signed the Wye Memorandum (then failed to deliver on his part in it).

Bibi stopped the prisoners’ release that he committed to during talks with Abbas this year, but delivered more than 1,000 prisoners to Hamas in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier who was captured in an attack on a military station near the Strip (then he broke that agreement too, and started rounding up those very same prisoners). It was the Mavi Marmara incident that made Israel allow more goods into Gaza, while some other restrictions were lifted after the November 2012 military escalation. A pattern emerges. Don’t be surprised if this round will end in similar gestures. Maybe not right away, but it will.

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Now, imagine Netanyahu using the political space Iron Dome’s success bought him (due to the relative lack of Israeli casualties) to take a few risks in the diplomatic process. Imagine him loosening up the siege a bit on his own, and perhaps giving the other side something to lose – and something to hope for. Imagine him, just once, taking a step forward without someone twisting his arm first.

Don’t hold your breath. Netanyahu only understands force and threats. This is true in his relations with the White House, and even more so with the Palestinians.

This is “restrained” Netanyahu. This is the “moderate” Bibi. Step by step, with thoughtfulness and sound judgment, he makes the entire system explode, and then pretends to be the reasonable adult – the one who won’t give in to the radicals; the one whose every action is both legal and legitimate. And while doing all that, he poisons relations among Israeli citizens, Jews and Palestinians, right and left. Take a look around and see where “restrained” Bibi has brought us. Verter called him a “tragic hero.” Netanyahu is no hero, and the tragedy is our own.

This is a war of choice, and it has Netanyahu’s name all over it. Israel is not a helpless victim; it is a regional superpower. The Israeli leadership can chose from many geopolitical options at any given moment – more than any other leadership in the region, and certainly more than the Palestinians. Yet the result is only one course of action.

Related
What does Israeli ‘acceptance’ of ceasefire really mean?
Why I object to this military campaign, even as missiles fall on my city
‘They left us no choice’: On military escalation and its Israeli rationale

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    COMMENTS

    1. Danny

      Netanyahu fired Danon, which was a good thing in itself, but he deserves no credit for that move because the question should arise: What was Danon doing in the defense ministry in the first place? Ah, yes… Netanyahu put him there. One may extend that question to Lieberman, Sa’ar, Bennett and all the other “gems” that make up Israel’s sorry excuse for a government. Pretty soon we are left to wonder if Netanyahu ever thinks through any of his decisions BEFORE they blow up in his face. More and more, I come to conclude that the answer to that is no.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Craig Vale

      Easier than shooting fish in a barrel, Bibi continues with the sport of outright murder as Israeli’s gather on the hills overlooking the spectacle of death ongoing in the Gaza as bomb after bomb falls on civilians to the cheers of those assembled. Just incredible images of incivility and savagery. For those who think this is a tit for tat exercise… do the math. Cast Lead = 1414 dead Palestinians 14 dead Israeli’s. This new round robin of slaughter is somewhere around 218 to 1. Just more humiliation heaped upon those who have their faces stuffed into the desert sands by the IDF on a daily basis. Bibi and Avi must be proud. Where is the conscience of the Israeli’s ?Why is no one speaking up ? They should know better !

      Reply to Comment
      • Sonnenuhr

        Why does no one speak out against Israel’s self defense? Hamas has a charter sworn to the destruction of Israel and a genocide of the Jewish people. Hamas has always worked towards these goals in respect of all degrees of life in Gaza despite the cost to Gazans. Billons of dollars have been spent on a Gazan army, rockets, armaments and tunnels while social services and infrastructure have been badly neglected.

        Gazans elected this government as their representative. Gazans full well knew that Hamas was a Jihadi organization which had used suicide bombers and other violent methods to kill and injury Israelis and was vowing to do the same in the future.

        Gazans, from prior actions by Hamas and Fatah over many long years, knew that Israel was stronger and would defend itself from attack. Gazans knew that Hamas would lead Gaza back into conflict time and time again.

        Gazans have reaped the consequences for supporting Hamas. Prior to this escalation, Gazans sent 100,000 of their children to military summer camp. If they did not continue to support Hamas, they would have come out on the street like Egyptians did against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

        Gazans need to start taking responsibility for the people they put in power.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Arb

      I’m waiting for the article about how this is a Hamas war of choice.

      Claiming that this operation is Israel’s fault is simply untruthful. A great deal of the pressure to act came not from Netanyahu’s colleagues in the government or “settlers” but rather from people who live in the Western Negev who were exhausted from what they were enduring. And you know what, Noam, if Israel hadn’t attacked and that tunnel to Kerem Shalom was actually used successfully by Hamas, you’d be sitting here preaching to us about how the attack was Israel’s fault.

      Here’s an alternative viewpoint for you. Take a look at Egypt and their rioting. Take a look at Syria and their war which has cost god knows how many lives and has made more people into refugees than Israel’s population, look at Iraq and the manner in which the sectarian groups act. Then simply look at Hamas without your Israel blinders on for a moment and you will see they are brothers in spirit of the Muslim Brotherhood, of Syria’s government and rebels, of Hizbullah, of ISIS, etc. They want war with Israel to destroy it and all the fancy shmancy talk about giving them something to make them have “hope” is naive. They waste hundreds of millions while their population has severe unemployment not on making lives better in Gaza but on arms and tunnels to be used against Israel.

      They have a choice and by making that choice, they leave Israel with the difficult choice responding. Fighting Hamas is like having an infection and deciding to disinfect it before it becomes extremely dangerous, or letting it continue to fester and grow until it becomes a very serious threat.

      Reply to Comment
      • Arb

        I wrote the previous comment prior to having read the news about the 13 Hamas terrorists who came through a tunnel this morning near a kibbutz. That tunnel was planned and built long before this operation began. So, what would you have said if there were no operation and they successfully penetrated using this tunnel? You would have said it’s the occupation, or the blockade, or 1948 or 1967 or possibly Zionism itself. Who knows? You would have blamed Israel.

        Instead, why don’t you take a good, long, hard look at Israel’s enemies. No, not your Palestinian friends who boss you around (Rami Younis telling you guys to shut up and let him control you), but the Palestinian leadership and people in general who simply want Israel to stop existing. This isn’t a game.

        Reply to Comment
        • Whiplash

          Hamas’ war of choice. UNWRA announced that it has found a weapons cache of 20 rockets in one of its schools. I suppose Noam will blame Israel for making Hamas place rockets in schools. Or will he claim that they were teaching props for peaceful purposes and not there by the choice of Hamas to engage in a war with Israel using Gazan civilians and their infrastructure to shield Hamas and their weapons.

          Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            No, we’ll just say what we’ve always said: that the rockets are, in comparison with air-strikes, almost totally harmless, and that the air-strikes aren’t stopping rocket attacks, and that doing no harm to civilians should come before making Hamas cry uncle. And that Iron Dome provides enough safety to pursue diplomacy.

            Reply to Comment
          • Arb

            That myth of the harmless Qassam rocket is gone. You now have sophisticated rockets that can travel quite a distance. The only reason for the minimal harm to Israelis is the effectiveness of Iron Dome which manages to shoot down most of the rockets directed at populated areas.

            Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            Harmless, apart from one fatality. And, you admit that Iron Dome is sufficient to protect against them. Like I said, you have the choice of diplomacy, but chose otherwise just because you can.

            Reply to Comment
          • Arb

            So now you acknowledge that it’s Iron Dome that stops the rockets, not that the rockets aren’t serious. Well, Iron Dome only has a 90% effectiveness rate, which means rockets get through. Also, every single time a rocket is launched, it forces all the Israelis in that area to take cover. Normal life isn’t possible in this situation. People are suffering and businesses are going broke. There is absolutely no reason for any country to have to live this way and Israel won’t.

            As for choices, Israel stopped firing the other day and received 50 rockets in reply over the next 6 hours before it began to fire back. In other words, you are wrong about the rockets and you are wrong about choice. You are, as always, wrong.

            Reply to Comment
          • Reza Lustig

            And what is the effectiveness of the Gazan air-strike defense system? I know, I know, you had no other choice…

            I don’t get your reasoning. You think that, in an armed conflict, one side should react to the other side stopping their cannons for a minute (without formally offering a ceasefire) by immediately saying “truce! OK, so we’re friends now?”

            And how much damage did those 50 rockets cause?

            Reply to Comment
          • Leo

            Although I wish I could trust more the Iron Dome so much advertized in the media, I am not so sure. And I am not the only one. Here is a link:

            http://normanfinkelstein.com/2014/iron-dome-fact-and-fiction/

            I’d be happy if someone proves the author to be wrong (i.e. the Iron Dome is efficient and the low number of civilian Israeli casualties is not only due to the low warhead of rockets and the early alert system). But… I tend not to overly trust our government (any government).

            Reply to Comment
          • Leo

            I agree pretty much with the article. But if war of choice means Bibi’s war, then you must go to the end of your reasoning: it is not ours and we should not fight it. Do you do miluim, do you have children in the IDF ?
            Though questions ahead, Mr. Sheizaf.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Richard

      I like how the author knows how command and control structures work, and puts that knowledge right in the title. That way I know that what I’m getting into is the real deal.

      Reply to Comment