The ways things have been looking over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t engaging in statesmanship. He’s mainly engaging in public relations. In any other place, this may end peacefully, but in the State of Israel, it could result in war. An unnecessary war, which would cost the lives of soldiers and civilians, our sons and daughters who are not supposed to die.
When considering those who surround the prime minister—his government members and the members of his Political-Security Cabinet—the concern is even greater. The inexperience on matters of security, the lack of diplomatic discretion and the absence of political balance, alongside arrogance and a disregard of our enemies, are—as we have learned in the past—a recipe for disaster.
US President Donald Trump outlined a good direction for Israel when he declared his intention to prevent Iran from reaching a nuclear weapon and to take measures against the Revolutionary Guards and the terrorism Iran is spreading throughout the world.
Israel, as a serious and quiet partner behind the scenes, plays a considerable part in helping him implement his plan. Israel has unique intelligence and operational abilities whose contribution to the US efforts is immensely more important and efficient than fiery rhetoric, regardless of how fluent the speaker is in English. Granted, Iran’s expansion in Syria isn’t good for us, and it’s a threat that must be addressed, but this is not the way a responsible statesman acts.
When Israel’s prime minister declares out loud: “We won’t let Iran expand in Syria,” what are the ramifications? Isn’t that the beginning of the escalation? If Iran does expand in Syria, what is he planning to do? Declare war?
Unfortunately, the prime minister favors headlines and empty slogans over a logical strategy. The prime minister knows the headline will be soon forgotten, and that everyone will soon be busy with the next slogan. But in statesmanship, declarations aren’t forgotten that easily—especially declarations made by prime ministers.
Measured military responses coupled with quiet diplomacy vis-à-vis the players on the northern front are the right thing to do, especially when they are directed at preventing Hezbollah from growing stronger, while not directly targeting Iran and Syria. But when they are accompanied by harsh words and populist statements, they become dangerous.
What we saw at the Golan Heights on Saturday is no longer errant fire but a measured Syrian response to the Israel Air Force’s justified strikes on Syrian territory. The IDF’s quick response is justified too. But sensible and levelheaded leadership doesn’t have to add vehement words to the fire. We are the strongest country in the region, and it’s unnecessary and unwise to shout it out from every stage. When it comes to the northern front, we should act according to the biblical verse from the Book of Amos: “At times like this a prudent person stays silent.”
And here’s the new headline: The Israeli government is halting negotiations with the Palestinian Authority following the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the PA.
While a pressured Hamas turns to the PA, we are harming the PA and bolstering Hamas and its claims. It’s hard to imagine a more foolish response.
Let’s not kid ourselves, Hamas is a tough enemy. But why not put Hamas and the PA to the test? Why not toss the ball into their court and announce that if they prove over time that they are indeed interested in agreements and in putting an end to violence, Israel will take practical measures to improve the standard of living for Gaza’s residents? Why not say that if the PA regains control of the strip, and if it turns out Hamas is indeed committed to stopping violence and reaching agreements rather than firing rockets at Israel, there would be room to discuss a seaport and airport for Gaza?
Imagine a situation in which Hamas is weakened and is forced to accept the PA’s authority, while Israel improves Gazans’ living conditions.
Why hurt Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi—the sympathetic and friendly president of the biggest and strongest Arab country, which happens to also be bordering Israel and Gaza—who was behind the reconciliation move and invested a lot of effort in it and put his own reputation on the line? What’s the point?
And yes, we must make Hamas understand that if the purpose of the agreement is to allow the organization to grow stronger ahead of another round of fighting, the IDF will deal it a critical blow. This is not something that can be done with fiery statements; it’s done with a sensible policy and elementary and quiet preparations.
Yet Bibi is once again giving in to the radicals in his government and to the "Mr. Media" inside of him, Israel is once again a rejectionist country lacking any vision and policy, and the government once again prefers fiery headlines over policy and statesmanship.
The suspension of negotiations with the PA in response to the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the PA, and the fiery statements against Iran as the Israeli government’s only reactions, leave no room for doubt: The government has lost its political way and is incapable or unwilling to seek a diplomatic solution for the conflicts. This is a misfeasance of the basic responsibility of the government and its leader—to do everything in their power to reduce the chances of war and to make it their top priority.
Let every Jewish mother know: The prime minister, the cabinet and the government are dragging us to war.
In such a reality, the ball is now in the IDF’s court—the responsible adult whose job is to reduce the price of war.
The IDF must be capable of defeating Hezbollah within several days in a bold and powerful operation, which would include quickly removing the missile and rocket threat against Israel’s citizens. From a military perspective, victory means only one thing—denying the enemy’s ability or willingness to fight.
We knew how to do it in the 1967 Six-Day War and in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when we shifted to an offensive in Syria, and when we decided to cross the Suez Canal. Yes, we’re talking about different conditions and different times, but those enemies were much stronger.
Unfortunately, this didn’t happen in the 2006 Second Lebanon War and in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge. The political echelon failed to define clear targets, and the heads of the IDF's General Staff failed to properly prepare the army, and then led it in a clumsy and hesitant manner. That’s not how you build the strength and deterrence that are so important to Israel in the Middle East in particular, and in the international arena in general.
But it’s possible, it’s in our hands, and the IDF—through the right planning and preparation (and not necessarily in a major exercise)—will know how to do it. Naturally, I shouldn’t write anything else, but I stand behind my words with the weight of my experience.
There are no easy wars, and all wars are painful, so we must prepare.
I’d like to clarify that I’m not calling for war. On the contrary. Like everyone else, I would rather see the Israeli government come to its senses, regain its sanity and return to the diplomatic path in order to implement its responsibility to prevent or reduce the chances of war. But if it fails to do so, every sensible and strong person must enlist to end this government’s term before we reach a disaster. And as long as one of these two things doesn’t happen, we must put our faith in the IDF as the responsible adult.
Major-General (res.) Amiram Levin is a former IDF Northern Command chief.