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.

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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