Netanyahu (L) and Barak
Photo: Yaron Brener
The growing reports about the possibility that our prime minister and defense minister have already decided that Israel shall attack Iran’s nuclear sites must bother any Israeli citizen concerned for his personal safety and for the nation’s security. Historical experience taught us that we must not underestimate such reports.
Before the first Lebanon War, for example, journalist Ze’ev Schiff published a detailed report about the war plans. The war plan, which was hidden both from the public and from Israel’s ministers, was in Schiff’s view a recipe for disaster. He attempted to avert it with his article. Yet the attempt failed and we know the outcome.
Both Barak and Netanyahu make pretenses of portraying themselves as great leaders. Both of them like to talk about Ben-Gurion-style or Churchill-style decisions. Yet in terms of their decisions as prime ministers thus far, experience shows that in respect to responsibility and sound judgment they are closer to Mussolini, who entangled Italy in a war he did not know how to escape.
Barak’s major decisions as PM pertained to negotiations with the Syrians and Palestinians. On both fronts his conduct was a model of bad judgment and recklessness. He embarked on talks with the Syrians a short while after entering office and progressed much while presenting a façade of one willing to make a historical decision and give up the Golan for peace. Yet precisely at the point where the conditions were ripe for an agreement and the gap between the sides was smaller than ever, he withdrew.
This failure did not teach Barak a lesson. A short while later he forced upon Yasser Arafat and President Clinton a summit in Camp David, even though all parties involved believed conditions were not ripe for a deal. However, Barak, showed flawed judgment and recklessness and forced his view on everyone else – after all, he knows best. He travelled to Camp David to bring peace, yet as conditions were not ripe, he brought the second Intifada disaster upon Israel.
Bibi ignores world
Netanyahu started his defense journey as prime minister with the miserable decision on opening the Kotel tunnel. Ever since then he became much more cautious, and just like he initiated nothing on the diplomatic front he has also stayed away from any initiative on the military front. Hence, it is hard to assess his judgment in this theater.
However, Netanyahu on more than one occasion declared that Iran’s nuclear threat is the gravest menace to the State of Israel’s security, and if this is so, eliminating this threat is obviously a target that must overshadow any other interest. Yet precisely on this critical front, Netanyahu’s leadership shows flawed judgment and recklessness – a clear antithesis to Churchill’s leadership model.
When Britain was left alone in its war against Nazi Germany, Churchill invested immense efforts and was willing to pay a high price to secure the American military aid England so direly needed. Israeli leaders understood this as well. In 1956, Ben-Gurion made every effort to secure Britain’s and France’s support before embarking on war with Egypt. On the eve of the Six-Day War, PM Eshkol stood firmly in the face of pressure exerted by IDF generals and Israel’s public opinion, which demanded war now, because he realized Israel must not embark on such war without global support.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, blatantly disregards international help. Even the leaders of the United States and Germany, the friendliest countries to Israel, lost their trust in him. For Netanyahu, building a few more housing units in a settlement that will not remain in Israel’s hands in any case is more important than securing the support of friendly powers for a risky military move whose chances of failing without such support are very high. The motives for his policy are unclear.
Even if he fears Lieberman and even if he believes in Israel’s right to build in the territories, this construction is a relatively minor asset compared to securing support for the moment of truth in a military confrontation with Iran.
Any chess fan knows that one must sacrifice a pawn in order to save the king. Netanyahu proves that he is playing with Israel’s future and is failing to understand the basic rules of the game. And if this is the kind of judgment he shows when weighing a fateful military move, which Israel’s top defense officials don’t support, there is no escaping the conclusion that Netanyahu too lacks judgment and is reckless.
Professor Uri Bar-Yosef is a member of University of Haifa’s International Relations Department
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