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Mad About Bibi

What precisely might be the “day-after” solution? International peacekeepers? We saw how well that worked out in southern Lebanon, where their presence has failed to deter Hezbollah in any respect from establishing total control. A revived Palestinian Authority, leading to a two-state solution?


Since October 7, there has been a never-ending chorus of voices calling for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to accept responsibility and resign or call for new elections. Those calls have reached a crescendo since the resignation last month of the head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, General Aharon Haliva.

At the outset, it is important to note that the nature of the responsibility taken by Haliva and that being urged upon Netanyahu, as head of the government at the time of the horrors of October 7, are very different. As Haliva admitted in his letter of resignation, he and the intelligence directorate under his command failed with respect to the most important part of its mission: to warn of an impending attack. His responsibility was operational, not ministerial — i.e., he failed in a clearly defined task.

In a similar vein, the commission of inquiry likely to be established when the current war ends will focus, in part, on why it took the army so many hours to confront the terrorists who crossed the border into Israel, and why it was left to so many private citizens to grab their rifles and head south long before there was any military response. That is a clearly defined failure.

Netanyahu’s responsibility is of an entirely different nature. It is ministerial responsibility for things having gone awry while he was prime minister. True, other prime ministers have resigned in similar circumstances, most notably Golda Meir after the Yom Kippur War. But it is not required. Netanyahu has not been found incompetent with respect to a clearly defined and crucial task.

Netanyahu, like Aharon Haliva and a long line of chiefs of staff and defense ministers, fell prey to the conceptzia that Hamas was largely deterred and would not launch any major attack on Israel. He did not, however, ignore specific warning signs as Haliva did, or threaten the Cassandras bringing him concerning information he did not wish to hear.

A strong argument can be made that Netanyahu erred in facilitating Qatar’s funding of Hamas, as a means of placating them and keeping them docile. But even if Netanyahu was completely mistaken about Hamas’s long-term intentions, there is little he could have done prior to the heinous attack on October 7.

We have witnessed how Israel has been anathematized for responding forcefully to one of the most horrific attacks in living memory. Imagine what the world response would have been had Netanyahu or any other Israeli leader ordered an attack on Gaza to uproot the terrorist infrastructure without a preceding Hamas attack.

Not only would such an attack have unleashed international condemnation, it would have brought down the government in Israel as well. Netanyahu would have been accused of being a warmonger guilty of irresponsibly shedding Jewish blood. Everywhere he went, he would have been hounded by bereaved parents blaming him for their children’s “unnecessary” deaths in Gaza combat.

Confirmation for that assessment comes from none other than former deputy prime minister Chaim Ramon. Ramon recently accused the previous chief of staff, Brig.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, of having refused an order from then prime minister Naftali Bennett to expedite development of a plan to eliminate Yahya Sinwar, after the axe murder of four Jews by terrorists in the chareidi city of Elad.

Just days prior to those attacks, Sinwar called on “our people who live inside the occupation state in the Negev, in the Triangle, in the Galilee, in Haifa and Jaffa, and in Acre and Lod. Everyone who has a rifle, grab their rifle, and whoever doesn’t have a rifle, grab any knife they can get and go out to kill Jews.”

But when Bennett ordered the elimination of Sinwar, in Ramon’s account, Kochavi responded, “If you want me to advance a plan to eliminate Sinwar, you have to convince me first that it is worth the war that it will start following this elimination, because I am the one who will have to explain later to the soldiers and also to the bereaved parents.”

Then defense minister and current war cabinet member Benny Gantz supported Kochavi’s position, and no effort to eliminate Sinwar was ever attempted.

If that was the reaction of the chief of staff to the proposed assassination of a single Hamas leader, then we can be sure that the outcry against a major invasion of Gaza ordered by Netanyahu would have been far worse.

THE NEXT CHARGE against Netanyahu is that he doesn’t care about the hostages and hasn’t done enough to secure their release. The protesters have not been clear about what he should have done short of agreeing to whatever terms Hamas sets. Daniel Gordis, who joined a protest against the government’s failure to secure the release of the hostages and then wrote about it at his widely read website, was subsequently harshly attacked by a writer who had lost a son in Gaza.

But it took his wife to explain to him the harshness of that response: “They were angry because the protest is essentially saying not to go into Rafah, if that’s what it will take to get the hostages back. But if we don’t go into Rafah, and we don’t destroy Hamas, then every parent who lost a kid, every wife who lost a husband and the father of her children, all have to ask, ‘What for? Why did they have to make that sacrifice?’ ”

It should be added that the criticism of Netanyahu for not securing the hostage release is at odds with the criticism of him for not having anticipated Hamas’s attack, even though those screaming for his head frequently attack him on both grounds. We know full well what the consequences of acceding to Hamas’s demands in order to secure the release of those hostages remaining alive would be. Because we have been down that road before, as seen in the exchange of well over 1,000 prisoners, including Sinwar himself, in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

The result would be that Hamas survives to fight another day. In short, more wars, more soldiers cut down in the prime of their lives, and more hostages seized as Hamas and all other potential enemies see clearly what they can extract from Israel for even one hostage.

ANOTHER CRITICISM of Netanyahu is that he has brought relations with the United States to a nadir. How so? By refusing to acquiesce in an American policy of showering tens of billions of dollars on the Iranian regime, even as it serves as the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world? By refusing to quietly accept a nuclear Iran? By continuing to insist on the defeat of Hamas, even as the Biden administration is actively working for its survival and a speedy cessation of fighting — a position, incidentally, favored by the heads of every major party in Israel?

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken lectures Israel that the defeat of Hamas is an unattainable goal because Hamas is an idea as well as a military force. Perhaps. But worship of the emperor in Japan and of the Führer in Germany were also ideas. With the unconditional surrender of Japan and Germany, however, those ideas were defeated as well. What is certain is that if Hamas retains power in Gaza and remains in control of the school system, the jihadism it promotes will never end.

It is further claimed that by promoting judicial reform, Netanyahu created bitter societal division that served as an invitation to Israel’s enemies to attack. As a decades-long proponent of judicial reform, I’m perhaps ill-positioned to assess this criticism. But a majority of Israelis feel that the High Court and the attorney general wield outsized power vis-à-vis the elected branches of government, and their numbers include numerous members of the legal academy, such as former justice minister Daniel Friedmann and the late constitutional law scholar Ruth Gavison, both of them winners of the Israel Prize.

It was not proponents of the reform but opponents who elected to eschew negotiations and debate, in favor of months of nonstop demonstrations and threats to not report for reserve duty. Yes, the bitter divisions over the issue did encourage our enemies to think that Israeli society was weaker and more divided than it turned out to be — thankfully. But why should the onus for that fall on the proponents of needed reforms — even if they might have been presented differently — rather than on the opponents?

ONE CRITICISM, however, cannot be so easily dismissed. The current chief of staff, Brig.-Gen. Herzl Halevi, whom it is widely assumed will resign after the conclusion of fighting, and subsequently Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, have spoken out against Netanyahu’s failure to develop a “day after” plan for Gaza. As a consequence, Hamas has returned to areas of Gaza from which it was previously expelled, leading to renewed fighting and casualties in those areas.

That criticism is not an expression of hatred for Bibi as the most formidable obstacle to the center-left’s return to power. But it suffers, it seems to me, from what former chief of staff and defense minister Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon once called “solutionism” and “nowism”: the assumption that every challenge has an immediate solution. An example is the fantasy that there must be a way to bring about peace between Israel and its neighbors — i.e., the so-called “two-state” solution.

What precisely might be the “day-after” solution? International peacekeepers? We saw how well that worked out in southern Lebanon, where their presence has failed to deter Hezbollah in any respect from establishing total control. A revived Palestinian Authority, leading to a two-state solution? The PA is held in widespread contempt in both Gaza and the West Bank. And as Michael Leavitt, a former senior US Treasury Department official, writes in the current Foreign Affairs, Hamas is actively working toward rapprochement with the PA, precisely so the PA will take over governance of Gaza and allow Hamas to return to its real raison d’être — waging never-ending war on Israel.

An Arab peacekeeping force from the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia? No matter how much those countries detest the Palestinians, they would never allow themselves to appear to be serving Israel’s interests against fellow Arabs.

Finally, there is no reason to think that Netanyahu seeks a long-term Israeli presence in Gaza, though Israel will likely retain some form of security control until the underground network of tunnels is destroyed, as well as the smuggling tunnels from the Sinai. And if there is ever to be hope of peace for Israel with its neighbors, the entire education system in which Palestinian children are raised, under the supervision of UNWRA, to look forward to the destruction of Israel, will have to be revamped entirely.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is not a paragon of all virtue. Nor can he be said to be above suspicion of ever factoring his personal or political interests into his decisions.

It is unhealthy for one man to hold the reins of power for almost the entirety of the past 15 years, and that dominance alone makes him a divisive figure. But it is demoralizing to a nation at war to have the prime minister accused daily of having only the lowest motives for decisions of life and death. His opponents should cease and desist unless they can make a far stronger case than they have to date.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1012)

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