We must go back to the days before Operation Protective Edge was launched and before the three Jewish teens were kidnapped in the summer of 2014. Hamas took advantage of the agreement achieved after the previous conflict, in Operation Pillar of Defense, to grow stronger. It increased its rocket range and built tunnels reaching into Israel. Israel exercised restraint.
Even before the teens were kidnapped, Hamas had launched nearly 70 rockets in March 2014. The restraint continued. It may have been a mistake.
After the teens’ abduction, Hamas heated up tensions. Those were difficult days. The Right pushed for a wide-scale ground invasion. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded with a “calm will be met by calm” policy. It was almost a plea to Hamas to stop launching rockets. Hamas insisted on carrying on.
The European Union issued a harsh statement demanding a demilitarization of the terror organizations, meaning Hamas. Even after the operation was launched, Netanyahu kept coming up with ceasefire initiatives. He acted against what seemed like his political instinct. After all, the criticism over Israel’s restraint came mostly from the Right.
That’s who he is. A lot can be said about him, and I’m not one of his followers or voters, but the man isn’t trigger-happy. So Major-General Amiram Levin’s recent claims in a Yedioth Ahronoth op-ed, that Netanyahu is leading us to war, are groundless. Netanyahu didn’t initiate a single operation, although Hamas grew stronger mainly when the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power in Egypt. Netanyahu didn’t respond when the cement for building bunkers began flowing into Gaza from Egypt. Netanyahu exercised restraint when the rocket arsenal kept growing and the range kept increasing.
What Iran is doing in Syria now is much worse. The ayatollah regime is declaring at the top of its voice and in mass protests, just like Hamas, that the goal is to destroy Israel. Under the protection of the shameful nuclear agreement, Iran is becoming a Middle Eastern power. The Iranian chief of staff travels to Damascus to make it clear who’s boss. Tehran, fully or partially, controls Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.
One has to be completely blind not to realize that a strategic problem is being created. The fact that Israel is the strongest country in the region, as Levin mentions, doesn’t make the Iranian threat less serious. As no one is planning a conflict in the form of a battle between armed forces, the terror organizations—just like the terrorist state of Iran—have realized a long time ago that Israel’s weak spot is being hit with rockets and missiles.
On this background, Levin’s claim that “the government is dragging us to war” is more than puzzling. Why it’s Iran that is moving forces. Why it’s Iran that is taking steps to change the strategic map. Why it’s Iran that is repeatedly declaring its intention to destroy Israel. But to hell with the facts.
Levin is pointing an accusing finger at Israel, because an Israeli prime minister is trying to set red lines. It takes a particularly distorted logic to accuse Netanyahu of all people, while Iran is the one who is making more and more moves that can be considered casus belli (an act that provokes or justifies a war).
We can, and we must, disagree with many of Netanyahu's moves. I share Levin’s criticism on the official response to the agreement between Fatah and Hamas. Israel, I recently wrote, could have taken advantage of the agreement to gain a lot of points, to make it clear that it seeks peace while Hamas seeks to continue the jihad at the expense of Gaza’s residents.
There’s something encouraging in the fact that almost all former defense officials who responded to Levin’s article—including Giora Eiland and Amos Yadlin, who are not among Netanyahu's fans—rejected his claims. A lot of things can be said about Netanyahu, and they should be said, but in blaming Netanyahu for the next conflict with Iran or Hamas, Levin crossed a dangerous red line.