As war goes on, politics as usual
By Dan Margalit, ISRAEL HAYOM
Commitment vs. anger; promise vs. disappointment. This, in a nutshell, is what Thursday’s news conference was all about. This set of emotions defined the rhetoric of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon as they addressed the nation.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was not present, having chosen to attend a special event in memory of the Golani Brigade’s fallen soldiers. It is a good thing he was not there, since the two speakers often chose to digress and settle some political scores rather than talk about national security matters. Military personnel should never engage in politics.
Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Gantz feel that they have been denied the credit they are due. They feel that some in the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet have played down the major blows Israel has dealt Hamas during the fighting. I am talking about a specific set of ministers, one of whom was criticized in 2013 for engaging in “friendly fire inside an armored personnel carrier” after he lashed out at Netanyahu.
Hamas has been dealt a crushing blow; there is no doubt about that. But when cabinet members express their disappointment over the way Operation Protective Edge has been prosecuted, this undermines Israel’s accomplishments and compromises the public’s stamina.
Of course, the jury is still out on whether Netanyahu and his colleagues have accomplished the national security goals they had spelled out and, if they have, whether the path advocated by Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel would have been preferable. Historians will debate this matter for many years to come. But by forming an internal opposition, cabinet members have become an albatross on the government’s neck. Let’s let the future take shape before we apply judgement.
At Thursday’s press conference Netanyahu and Ya’alon did not speak ill of the official opposition, Labor. This deafening silence on the rival parties — in stark contrast to previous operations — underscores the degree to which contrarian MKs inside the Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beytenu have gotten under Netanyahu’s skin.
Granted, there is a war of egos around the cabinet table. Yes, there are party politics at play. But at the core, there is an ongoing debate about the prosecution of the war. Some say Ya’alon and Netanyahu, who have taken measured steps towards restoring the calm in Israel and specifically in the Gaza area communities, are doing the right thing. Their supporters view them as minesweepers delicately navigating their way through a treacherous field. This saves lives, but it requires time.
Others, like Bennett and his supporters, say this go-slow approach is devilishly wrong. The public’s faith in its leaders has taken a beating, they say, because of how they have handled things. Their conduct has cast doubts on their ability to obtain the war’s objectives, which, according to Bennett and his friends, cannot be met through any Cairo-led talks.
When all is said and done, Netanyahu and Ya’alon may very well end up where Bennett wants them to go, and maybe Hamas will be dealt a blow of such great proportions that no big maneuver would be necessary (sparing the diplomatic crises that it would inevitably trigger). Perhaps, but there is no way of telling.
But Bennett is not the only one who could shake things up in the government. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid have tried to have Netanyahu step up his diplomatic game. Their criticism has helped feed the perception that Netanyahu prefers to see a crippled Hamas remain in power rather than topple it. They say this is designed to deny Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas any credit for whatever deal emerges, and that Netanyahu fears that if Abbas gains strength, the international community would once try to extract major Israeli concessions in Judea and Samaria. This riddle is bound to remain unsolved, even after Ya’alon and Netanyahu leave office.
PM: Instead of attrition, Hamas will be crushed
During Operation Protective Edge, Israel has dealt Hamas harshest blow since its inception, says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu • Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon slam cabinet ministers for criticizing government policy during fighting.
Mati Tuchfeld and Israel Hayom Staff
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address the media
“Hamas thinks that it can wear us down,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday at a press conference at the Kirya Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv. “It is mistaken. The Israeli people are strong. Instead of attrition, Hamas will be crushed — its infrastructure, terrorists and commanders.”
Netanyahu did not rule out the possibility of making the toppling of the Hamas regime in Gaza a goal of Operation Protective Edge. The prime minister said that during the operation so far, Israel has delivered “the harshest blow that Hamas has taken since it was founded.”
“Operation Protective Edge has not ended, not even for a moment, because this is a continuing campaign and I am not speaking only about recent weeks,” Netanyahu said. “Our struggle against the terrorist organizations is long and has continued for many years — against Hezbollah, al-Qaida, Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza, which is part of an Islamic terrorist network the newest member of which is a murderous gang, another terrorist organization, ISIS [the Islamic State] in Iraq and Syria, and it has also attacked Lebanon.”
Netanyahu said Israel’s policy toward Hamas was “simple.”
“If they fire, they will be hit, and not just hit but hit very hard,” Netanyahu said. “And if Hamas does not understand this today, it will understand it tomorrow. And if not tomorrow then the day after tomorrow because in the Middle East, one needs not just military power, but also stamina and patience.
“Hamas is like ISIS. ISIS is like Hamas. They’re branches of the same tree. And I can say that the entire world has been shocked by the atrocities of ISIS. You saw this, the beheading of an American journalist, [James] Foley. It shows you the barbarism, the savagery of these people. Well, we face the same savagery.”
Netanayhu said Operation Protective Edge would produce “a new diplomatic horizon” for Israel.
“I will look forward to restarting peace negotiations with a Palestinian government committed to peace with Israel, to the end of terror, to fulfilling the previous obligations that we have,” Netanyahu said. “And I think this is part and parcel of the larger picture that I’m talking about. We have to think carefully how we tie in the new circumstances to the advantage of peace and against terror.”
Netanayhu also slammed cabinet members for criticizing government policy while the fighting in Gaza continues.
“I suggest to my colleagues in the cabinet to act as I used to,” Netanyahu said.
“When I was opposition leader, I gave support to prime ministers during times of war and fighting. I lent a hand and spoke less. I expect everyone to be responsible. Do not throw around empty and hollow slogans that do not stand the test.
“I have only one consideration — the good of the State of Israel. I will continue to act decisively and responsibly.”
Rejecting criticism of ministers who said they were kept out of the loop, Netanyahu said, “There have been 27 cabinet discussions [during Operation Protective Edge]. Everyone has had a chance to be heard and speak their mind.”
At the same press conference on Wednesday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon backed Netanyahu’s statements, saying, “It is unacceptable that while our soldiers are fighting and while we are burying our dead, criticism is being sounded.”
Earlier on Wednesday, at a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu rebuked Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and told him to stop criticizing the government of which he is a member. This lead to a tough exchange of words between the two. Bennett’s officer later issued a statement, saying, “Minister Bennett does not think that one negotiates with a terrorist organization, period. His opinion will not change.”
Before Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for the toppling of the Hamas regime.
“I hope everyone has realized by now that the policy of ‘quiet met with quiet’ means that Hamas is the instigating party and the one to decide when, where, and how much to fire at the residents of Israel, while we satisfy ourselves only with responding. … There is no alternative to a determined Israeli move with a single goal — defeating Hamas.”
Following Netanyahu’s press conference on Wednesday, Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) said the prime minister had said nothing to address the needs of Israeli citizens, particularly residents of the south.
“We saw a prime minister more concerned with his shaky relationships with his cabinet members than with providing solutions to the Israeli public,” Herzog said.