Survey after survey indicates that the people of Israel believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is the most qualified potential prime minister to provide Israel with security. This is completely mystifying to me. Netanyahu’s own speeches deal repeatedly with the overwhelming threats that Israel faces today and should instill within us the sense of lack of security, not the opposite.
Six former heads of the Shin Bet went on record in the film The Gatekeepers to emphasize that without making peace with our Palestinian neighbors Israel will not have security and faces the real risk of a return to violence of the kind we experienced in the second intifada. In November 2014, over 100 former high-ranking Israeli army members, police officers and spy chiefs called on Prime Minister Netanyahu to pursue peace with the Palestinians. The Council for Peace and Security, whose membership base is comprised of hundreds of senior security establishment members, such as former high-ranking officers of the IDF, former holders of equivalent positions in the Mossad and Shin Bet, the Israel Police, retired diplomats, directors of government ministries and academia have constantly indicated that without a peace agreement with our Palestinian neighbors Israel will not have security.
The Council has also called on the government of Israel to accept the Arab Peace Initiative, which has been on the table since 2002, as the basis for negotiations with the Palestinians and with Israel’s other Arab neighbors.
Netanyahu is constantly reminding us of all of the threats that surround us, from Hamas in Gaza and potentially in the West Bank, to Hezbollah in Lebanon, to Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, the unpredictable stability of Jordan, Qatar’s support of terrorism, Turkey’s hosting of terrorist leaders and the fanatic leader of Turkey, and let’s not forget about the major threat of Iran.
The threats are all real and near. But from a policy point of view, the question is what is done to confront those threats. Netanyahu’s response is to do nothing but to talk about them as much as possible – as if by talking about them they will go away. But they are not going away; they are getting nearer and more dangerous with the passing of time and without any Israeli initiative.
Netanyahu has spoken about the opportunities facing Israel as a result of the convergence of interests in the region in facing those common threats. There is common cause in confronting Islamic radicalism in its IS form as well as in the form of its former international nemesis, al-Qaida, between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, the UAE and surprisingly even Hezbollah and Iran. Netanyahu has indicated that he believes that with common threats and interests Israel could actually join some kind of regional coalition to confront the regional threats together – something that would strengthen Israel’s position in the region and in the world. The idea is correct and if possible would be a boost for Israel’s security and position in the international community.
The problem is that it is not possible. Israel cannot join any regional alliance or real regional cooperation for security and stability without addressing the Arab Peace Initiative and without engaging sincerely in negotiations with the Palestinians on ending the occupation and allowing the Palestinians to have a state of their own next to Israel.
Even in the tactical side of protecting Israel’s security interests and needs, Netanyahu agreed to allow the IDF to withdraw from communities alongside the Gaza border because of “lack of funds.” At the same time, there seems to be enough money to bolster settlements without delay and for no apparent security reason.
Hundreds of millions of shekels have been transferred for additional settlement building since the call for new elections was made. The overwhelming majority of senior military officers and security personnel in the past and present believe that bolstering settlements is counterproductive to Israel’s real security needs.
These moves place Israel against almost the entire world, including the United States, and significantly increase Israel’s isolation and the calls in the international community for boycotts and sanctions against Israel.
The continuing deterioration of the situation inside Gaza, with no reconstruction taking place and the harsh winter weather leaving hundreds of thousands without shelter, warmth, fresh water and electricity, brings us nearer to the next round of warfare between Israel and Gaza. There should be no doubts about that.
Even within the IDF we are beginning to hear senior officers speaking about the lack of deterrence even after 51 days of fighting and the dropping of thousands of tons of explosives upon Gaza, flattening entire buildings and neighborhoods. What will Israel do next time? Double the number of killings, wipe out even more neighborhoods, destroy more infrastructure? At some time we are going to have to face the possibility that the best answer to the use of force against us is not always the knee-jerk response of using force in return. And of course, as the saying goes, when force doesn’t work, use even more force. This might sound good, but usually the end result is more people getting killed – on both sides.
Security management is based on risk management.
There are risks all along the way – these are issues which literally determine life and death. There are no easy calls and no easy decisions to be made. The weight of decision making is enormous on the shoulders of the Israeli prime minister. No one should be envious of the position of having to make these decisions.
But it does bewilder me that the Israeli public so easily accepts the risks that we face when we have to go into battle. We know that there will be causalities – civilian and military, but when it comes to facing risks for peacemaking all of the arguments explode in the public’s discourse. There are no guarantees in going to war or going to peace. Once we begin – in both situations – we know how we begin, but we don’t know how we will end. Intelligent decision making on the security front requires good intelligence, good assessments of possible outcomes and some kind of rational, coherent goals which are potentially achievable. These must then be matched with intelligent strategies and plans for taking action.
Israel’s intelligence, among the best in the world, messed up in Gaza. Despite claims of knowing about the tunnels for years, they totally underestimated the extent of the tunnels and had absolutely no knowledge of where their exits were on the Israeli side of the border.
If they had, they could have taken care of that too-real threat long ago. The assessments of the Gaza operation’s possible outcomes failed to predict the lack of deterrence following the fighting and did not put into place any positive scenario for the coming period.
The lack of clear, coherent policy goals has left Israel with no political achievements and has in fact weakened Israel’s security position in the region and in the world.
From a security point of view, Netanyahu is a total failure. Israel is weaker today that it was two years ago and as his campaign testifies, he has no proposals other than flooding us with threats for how to deal Israel’s security. It is time to give someone else a chance to lead – someone who actually proposes that Israel should try and speak to it neighbors. That someone is Isaac Herzog.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.