Something is happening to Ehud Barak in his second term in office. He is so smart in his mind, so ripe and ready and worthier than anyone else, that being smart is no longer good enough for him. Now he’s a smartass too.
His latest decision, to cut off the power in Gaza in response to Qassam attacks, is an excellent example of the difference between being smart and being a smartass: There has been plenty of commentary about it, piles of analytical explanations, a series of winks from those in the know, but nobody dares to say openly what everyone is quietly whispering: It’s a dumb decision.
I would not be using such a blatant term had this decision not revealed a rare combination of flows. First, it does not punish Qassam launchers, but rather, the Gaza population, and pushes it into the arms of Hamas and terrorism. Secondly, it contradicts any moral or international law norm. Instead of disconnecting Israel from the occupation, at least in matters pertaining to Gaza, it worsens Israel’s image as a cruel occupier. Thirdly, it is incommensurate with the effort to renew dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and with moderate Arab regimes. The foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, not to mention Mahmoud Abbas, would not be able to quietly sit in Annapolis when Barak is keeping Gaza in darkness.
Barak did not invent a smart new move. The idea to cut off Gaza’s power was raised in the pat. It tempted IDF major generals because it did not require an effort or risk on their part. We just cut off the power and that’s it. To their surprise, they discovered that the Israel Electric Company refuses to cooperate: It signed a contract with the Palestinian Authority and it cannot violate it.
The IDF could have, in line with Joseph Heller’s satirical novel Catch-22, bombed the Israeli power station in Ashkelon, but that idea was rejected as well, for practical reasons. As there was no other choice, the Air Force bombed the transformers inside Gaza. The bombing angered the Americans, who invested money in the Gaza power station. Moreover, this move did not prevent the launching of even one Qassam rocket.
Even though the chances of the decision actually being implemented are close to zero, it constitutes good news for Hamas. The decision provides it with free propaganda ammunition and a good excuse for its failures in running the Strip. Any shortage discovered in Hamas-land from now on, be it fuel, basic commodities, or humanitarian products would be blamed on Israel.
Scared of talkbacks
Indeed, Hamas did not wait for Barak: On Sunday, even before the ink dried on the decision, Hamas already complained that Israel stopped the supply of fuel. It doesn’t matter whether Israel did or didn’t. What matters is that an impression of a moral balance was created: We’re hit with Qassams, while they face fuel shortages. We and Hamas are part of the same package.
Why is Barak making this silly move? First of all, because as there is no solution to the Qassam problem, a spin can also be a solution, as long as nobody realizes that the defense minister’s brain is empty of solutions. Secondly, because it looks great in the talkbacks: Any eight year old kid who wishes to express himself voices enthusiastic support. Finally, writes the kid, we have a defense minister with balls.
Had they been afraid of Barak, such is life. Politics requires compromises. Inconvenient ones even. Yet the truth is they do not fear Barak, but rather, the talkback kids. If they only said what they really think, they would be hit with 600 talkbacks with the word “traitor” in the subject line. These Knesset members are willing to sustain anything, aside from patriotic reprimands from teenagers.