| Knesset Channel |

A Restraining Hug

Thank you, Mr. President

Photo: Flash90


The images of President Joe Biden’s wartime visit under rocket fire were balm for the soul of the bruised Israeli public.

But while the gesture warmed our hearts, our heads ached at what it meant. Israelis aren’t the only ones to have lost faith in their political and military leadership — Uncle Sam has too. If Biden didn’t doubt Israel’s ability to defend itself, and the resolve of its leaders, he wouldn’t have thrown all of America’s weight into the conflict.

Biden didn’t only say “don’t” to Israel’s enemies in the region. He had a similar warning for the Israeli war cabinet in their closed-door meeting. Biden posed a question to all the officials present that Israelis have been pondering themselves: “What’s your vision for the day after?”

One cabinet minister who was asked what Israel gained from the presidential visit broke his answer into two parts. First, on the public relations front: Biden (like Clinton after the Rabin assassination) is the only leader to have won the Israeli public’s heart in the aftermath of the attack.

Second, on the operational front: Biden came to encourage, but also to restrict. By becoming the first American president to visit Israel in the midst of a war, he’s giving up the option of allowing the Israelis freedom of action.

A president backing Israel from the Oval Office can give the IDF breathing room to carry out operations that America can disassociate itself from by saying the Israeli government acted on its own initiative. But the moment the president’s feet touch ground in Jerusalem and he sits down with the Israeli war cabinet, he no longer has the luxury to allow Israel to do what it wants. At this point, anything the Israeli military does must be perceived as a move green-lighted in advance by the American president.

When Biden showed up at the war cabinet, he sounded more like Israel’s commander in chief than he did America’s. The cabinet ministers realized they couldn’t turn him down. From humanitarian concessions Israel wouldn’t have offered to the clarification that Israel can’t permanently reoccupy Gaza — the cabinet got in line. Nothing’s for free, and even hawkish cabinet ministers had to understand the situation: After being forced to cancel his meetings with Arab leaders in Egypt and Jordan, Biden had to balance his show of empathy for Israel by extracting a series of concessions beyond what he’d planned when he took off for Israel.

“I can’t rule out that Bibi asked Biden to come specifically for this reason,” one cabinet minister summed up. “We all know Bibi’s reluctance to go all out, and in this case, he preferred to come across as a prime minister making concessions under pressure from a visiting American president, rather than as a prime minister ordering concessions on his own initiative against the opposition of cabinet members.”



From the command bunker in the Kiryah in Tel Aviv to the plenum hall, the despondent atmosphere in Israel’s leadership is on display everywhere. The gloom in the Knesset at the opening of the session last week recalled the terrible winter after the Yom Kippur War, 50 years ago.

Without a hint of celebration, Knesset members listened with uncharacteristic silence to the opening speeches by the president, prime minister, and opposition leader. The traditional catcalls were replaced by the siren that sent members into the bomb shelter. Symbolically, some took shelter in the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee room, the epicenter of the civil war that convulsed Israeli society for nine months before the attack.

After a two-year hiatus, Netanyahu and Gantz once again took their seats together at the government table. The working relationship between Netanyahu, Eizenkot, and Gantz in the war cabinet has been professional and pragmatic — something that can’t be said about the tottering relationship between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a Likud member. The two seem to have it in for each other. When Gallant spoke for too long in front of the American president, Netanyahu glared at him and quickly took over.

One man who has yet to join the emergency government, despite having shown interest, is Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who made it clear from day one that he would unconditionally join any government that committed to the destruction of Hamas. His sole demand was to be included in the war cabinet, which was perceived as legitimate by the rest of the coalition partners. Given his résumé as minister of defense, finance, and foreign affairs, and chair of the security and foreign affairs committee, the war cabinet is where he belongs.

Yet despite the goodwill from the rest of the partners, including his friend-turned-foe Aryeh Deri, Lieberman has yet to join the government due to Bibi’s veto. The Likud spokesperson even jumped the gun by putting out a congratulatory announcement while Lieberman and Deri were still on the phone. That show of bad faith effectively torpedoed Lieberman’s entrance to the coalition.

Netanyahu’s reason for blocking Lieberman from the government can only be explained by old personal grievances. Lieberman is a red flag for the Netanyahu household, and as a cabinet minister he could become a thorn in Bibi’s side, should the cabinet decide to grant further humanitarian concessions for nothing in return, or decide to stop the war before Hamas is destroyed.

This story shows us the quality of Israel’s leadership after the horrors of 5784. From opposition chair Yair Lapid to Prime Minister Netanyahu, petty politics is playing a central role in Israel’s great struggle.



The IDF chief of staff, the head of the military intelligence directorate, and even the defense minister have all taken responsibility, and it’s clear to everyone that they won’t keep their positions after the war. Only Netanyahu still refuses to so much as hint at the concept of responsibility in his speeches.

This week, I asked a (privately) fuming Likud member whether Bibi really thinks he can escape responsibility for what happened. “Absolutely, that’s what he thinks,” he replied. “Everyone can see that Netanyahu refuses to acknowledge his personal responsibility, for two reasons. The first is that in his view, Hamas’s empowerment is the result of territorial concessions that started at Oslo and culminated with the Gaza disengagement.

“The second reason relates to the localized intelligence failure on October 7. Netanyahu truly believes that he was failed by IDF officials and the intelligence apparatus. He’s complaining that he received no warning from anyone and reminding everyone that he wasn’t even included in the conversation between the chief of staff and the head of the Shin Bet about the signs that something was afoot the night before the attack. Bibi is pointing the finger at incumbent heads of the security establishment and intelligence community, who were appointed by the Bennett-Lapid government, and pointing out that he wasn’t told a thing until 6:29 on the morning of Simchas Torah. In his mind, the heads of the army and military intelligence, along with chiefs of staff and former defense ministers such as Eizenkot and Gantz, are the ones who tripped him up, and so the responsibility should at the very least be shared.”

Anyone following currents of public opinion since the start of the war understands that none of Israel’s leaders will escape the people’s judgment. In a paraphrase of Chazal’s statement regarding one who chases honor, perhaps whoever flees from accountability will be pursued by accountability.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 983)

Oops! We could not locate your form.