There are always elections and there is always a military strike. One depends on the other, and timing depends on neither one.
In January 2009, it seemed that then-prime minister Ehud Olmert had planned Operation Cast Lead as a farewell gift to the Kadima party, a moment before he retired.
At the time, I was inside the Gaza Strip as a reserve soldier – a strategic look at mud level. As far as I was concerned, everything reported on the radio was true. Cynicism was part of the commentary and, from the sound of it, it was also part of the decision making process. Olmert cooperated with then-defense minister Ehud Barak, who let IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi in on the secret, and Yoav Galant was operated as Southern Command chief.
Who would have thought that the war had been real and not just a spin? That Olmert had quarreled with Barak throughout the entire operation? That behind the sophisticated move, Ashkenazi had developed antibodies against Barak and Galant? And mainly, that war and political spins don’t go hand in hand, because in the kingdom of uncertainty one can also lose?
On the eve of the previous elections, I found myself again in uniform near the Gaza Strip, waiting for orders. Operation Pillar of Defense. The Israel Air Force flew over the waiting point I was waiting at. Every few minutes there was a Code Red alert, and the operation fortunately ended with understandings (which didn't last) and without too many casualties from errant rockets.
In Operation Pillar of Defense the television was on, the commentators commentated and the phone vibrated every few seconds with sophisticated explanations of the political move behind the shells.
The current election was also launched this week with an alleged Israeli strike. If that's how it ends, we're in good shape. It seems that the current reality in Gaza isn't promising a thing. It keeps flowing regardless of the elections, and so does the reality in the north.
Our leaders' maneuvering area is limited. They are not the ones who determine the height of the flames in an intifada, they are not the ones who plan the results of terror attacks, and they don’t always schedule every offensive.
Those who claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is initiating military operations in order to divert the public discourse don’t understand the nature of wars. They are also misinterpreting military scheduling processes in the defense establishment. Military operations don't develop at the touch of a button. A lot of buttons are pushed on the way, and there are many people who plan, study and approve the operations.
Late prime minister Menachem Begin was the first person who was accused of turning a military operation into an election campaign. It was after his decision to attack the nuclear reactor in Iraq, a moment before the Israeli public headed to the polls. In a famous speech, he slammed his political rivals for even thinking that he would risk our sons' lives for the sake of politics. That's a good question, but the fact is that the thought did cross their minds.
There is a lot of cynicism in Israeli politics. There always has been. Netanyahu is as blessed with it as other party leaders. We should not ascribe total of freedom of action to cynicism. It is restricted to areas where there isn't too big of a risk.
Olmert's Operation Cast Lead was a bold decision after the Winograd Commission's investigation into the Second Lebanon War and a broad sense of failure among the Israeli public.
Operation Pillar of Defense was launched as a result of an ongoing erosion process in the deterrence. Netanyahu was subject to harsh criticism at the end of the operation. The soldiers were angry about not being sent into the Strip, the residents were angry about the return to routine life, and the Knesset seats moved to other parties and created a small Likud and early elections.
A war with Syria while Jerusalem won't stop bubbling is an outcome no one is interested in, not even those who seek to divert the discussion from economical issues to security-related issues.
I wrote enough words of criticism last week about the election move, about the personal ego of each of the sides, about the irresponsibility and political chaos which is leading nowhere. All the words won't change the fact that Israeli governments, including the current one, take every decision to launch a military move very seriously.
If Begin managed to orchestrate such a successful attack on a nuclear reactor just so he could win the 1981 elections, then his rivals were wrong – he deserved to stay on as prime minister. If Netanyahu is a magician who can organize intelligence collection, operational planning and an uninfluenced operation within two days after calling elections – he deserves to be reelected.
Between the political spins, every prime minister tries to do the right things.