The Begin government, which got Israel entangled in the 30-year war in Lebanon, included a senior minister called David Levy, who dared voice divergent opinions on occasion. Who would believe that we would miss David Levy (and Simcha Erlich, and Yosef Burg, and Aryeh Deri: Ministers who never graduated a squad commanders course, never lay in ambushes, and never made it to our elite commando units, but possessed common sense when it came to security affairs.)
The public discourse in the wake of last Monday’s events focused on the operational side: Were Navy commandoes briefed properly, was there an intelligence lapse, should they have used a different technique to board the ship, and did they use their weapons appropriately.
These are fascinating questions and an important basis for drawing lessons within the Navy, yet with all due respect, they miss the essence. Officials in Israel viewed the operation as an isolated incident; a military maneuver that went wrong. Yet this is not how it was viewed in the world.
The world perceived the operation as yet another testimony in a long line that Israel had become – in the eyes of the world – a reckless state. The lethal raid was the last straw.
We can whine about the world’s hypocrisy: Netanyahu does it better than anyone else, in a deep baritone voice and using desperate hand gestures. Whining is the last resort of the person who is not acting; of the one who panics; of the loser. The whining will not extract Israel from the complex situation it found itself in.
How did it happen? How did governments who responded to Israel’s wars in Lebanon and Gaza with understanding, and possibly even with sympathy, now treat Israel like a pariah?
Netanyahu living in denial
There are several reasons for this, and not all of them were in Netanyahu’s control. Yet the mistakes he made had a decisive contribution. The first colossal mistake was appointing Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister. When Lieberman is your display window, don’t be surprised when nobody wishes to enter the store.
The second mistake was blurring the distinction between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements. The third mistake was Sheikh Jarrah. In his Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu endorsed the two-state solution and agreed to a settlement freeze of an unprecedented scope, yet the world did not believe he was frank and suspected it was lip service. The fact was he easily convinced Begin, Yaalon, and Lieberman to agree.
The fourth mistake was the failed handling (which started in the previous government) of Goldstone, and the operation in Dubai. Mossad Director Meir Dagan, who last week said that Israel has turned from an asset to a burden in America’s view, forgot to mention his own modest contribution to this change.
Netanyahu is living in denial. Just like with the tunnel events in his previous term in office, here too he failed to grasp how things may develop. He did not ask himself what will Erdogan do and how would Turkey respond to an Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship. He did not ask himself how foreign governments would respond, with dignitaries from their countries being on that ship.
He was so complacent that he did not leave any member of his office in Israel as a contact man, even though he knew the operation will be carried out while he’s abroad, on the eve of his meeting with the US president.
And now that the damage is done, he keeps on capitulating: He announced that the Turks on board the ship were al-Qaeda agents, but then sent them back home as heroes without completing their interrogation. He expressed his agreement to ease the Gaza blockade. He agreed to international involvement in the inquiry into the operation, and then retracted.
Yet at this time, Israel has no leader and no leadership.