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WHO DOES BIBI FEAR MOST, ISRAELI SETTLERS OR TRUMP?

Israeli Knesset in session (Photo By איציק אדרי, CC BY 2.5)

It was not Israel's finest hour. State Comptroller Yosef Shapira has lambasted both Israel's political and military echelons for their conduct before and during the 'Protective Edge' military campaign against Hamas in Gaza in the summer of 2014. Sixty-eight Israelis and five civilians were killed in the war that was triggered by the Hamas kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz barely received a passing mark. They were all found to be at fault for their failure to prepare to deal with the tunnels dug by Hamas under the border into Israel that cost many Israeli lives.

The strangest thing is that the Hamas tunnels came as no surprise. The Israeli civilians living in their homes along the Gaza border could clearly hear the sound of tunneling at night. However, Bibi, Ya'alon and even General Gantz always assured the public with a sort of 'Not to worry we have everything under control'.

But they didn't - far from it. A retired IDF Brig. Gen. who supervised the enquiry revealed they had never even convened a full-fledged security cabinet session to discuss the threat. Moreover, IDF Chief of Staff Gantz failed to order a crash program to find a solution. Was everyone asleep at the wheel? Consider this: already in 2006, IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped and two other soldiers killed when Hamas fighters popped out of a tunnel dug under their guard post from Gaza. Obviously, this should have been a whale of a warning, but surprisingly, it wasn't. You can imagine those Israeli civilians, who live really close to the Gaza border, were really upset. So time for a crash program, right? But apparently there was none.

Listen to Yossi Langotsky, a former intelligence officer who, after leaving the IDF, became a prominent geologist. After the tunnel attack, Langotsky volunteered his expertise to help find an answer to this new and deadly threat. At the time, the problem was that there did not exist a technology for discovering tunnels. There was simply no financial interest in Israel or abroad for such equipment because there was no market, and no one else faced such a military or terrorist threat. Full of vim and vigor, Langotsky turned up at the IDF research unit dealing with tunnels, but found there was no sense of urgency - everybody 'worked from nine to five and went home'. So did Langotsky after he got tired on knocking on doors. But it exploded years later in Gaza.

Bibi and his Defense Minister did not press the IDF to come up with a solution, and the Chief of Staff was busy with a plethora of much bigger issues, such as Iran possibly acquiring nuclear weapons. The fact is that no one really considered some Hamas tunnels as posing a strategic threat to Israel's survival. This approach exploded in Israel's face. Moreover, the IDF had not trained the troops properly for destroying the tunnels and fighting inside Gaza where the Hamas fighters were holed up in civilian buildings and used civilians as human shields. In one egregious case, an out-of-date IDF armored personnel carrier broke down inside Gaza. The troops it was transporting were cut off and killed. How come the IDF, with its huge budget, wound up sending an old APC into a fierce battle?

The State Comptroller's Report did find one member of the Security Cabinet who cottoned on to the festering threat posed by Gaza. Not surprisingly, it was Tzipi Livni who warned the economic situation in Gaza could spark a military confrontation. However, Livni's warning fell on deaf ears. Livni is one of the most impressive Israeli politicians around - she is a straight shooter and very smart. In the past, Livni caught the eye of Arik Sharon, who reportedly valued her over Ehud Olmert. Although Livni was a member of an old Herut 'Land of Israel' family, she followed Sharon when he quit the Likud to form the Kadima party. It eventually carried out the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. In fact, Livni once had a crack at trying to form an Israeli government after Sharon fell critically ill, but failed due to her refusal to pay off the ultra-orthodox Haredim. For this she was ridiculed by much of the media for 'not knowing how to play Israeli politics'. After the breakup of Kadima, Livni joined the Labor party and jettisoned her former Land of Israel ideology in favor of seeking a territorial compromise based on a two-state solution. For this she has been criticized for jumping from one party to another. On the contrary, Livni deserves credit for keeping an open mind while always weighing what is in Israel's best interest.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is also in a double bind these days. The settler fanatics, both in and out of his Likud party, are pressing hard for the government to launch an all-out settlement program. As a first step, they demand the annexation of the town of Ma'ale Adumim just outside Jerusalem on the West Bank. But Bibi is facing pressure from President Trump to hold off on settlement moves such as annexation. Bibi has told the settlers there is still no deal between Jerusalem and Washington on the extent of Israeli settlement building. But the settler camp, which has been disappointed deeply by Trump, does not want to take No for an answer. Therefore, Bibi faces a painful dilemma? If he gives in to the settlers Trump could go on the warpath. But if Bibi keeps stalling on settlements, Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett could try and topple Bibi by bringing down the coalition and precipitating an early election.

But it is not all doom and gloom for Bibi, who is also facing three police investigations for financial monkey business. A Channel 1 TV poll shows that the PM is again leading the pack despite the damning report by the State Controller. But some of his Likud rivals smell blood. Avi Dichter, the Chairman of the prestigious Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee and former Shabak Security chief, has just thrown his hat in the ring for Likud party leadership. Dichter contends a prime minister facing police investigations cannot properly run the country, and let no one tell you otherwise. And Bibi's old side-kick Moshe Ya'alon, who was fired unfairly by the PM, has also announced that he is forming a new party to run in the next election.

Super-hawk, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has come to Bibi's side. While out of office, Lieberman acted the firebrand, but now ensconced in the prestigious Defense Ministry he backs Bibi when it comes to preserving good relations with Trump after the Obama feud. Lieberman even offered Hamas a plan to improve the deteriorating economic situation in Gaza. In return, Hamas would have to crack down harder on the sporadic rocketing of Israel from Gaza.

There have been several more incidents, and the IDF retaliates almost immediately. Although IDF Intelligence Chief Herzl Halevi does not believe that either Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in southern are ready for another round, he also warns that Gaza is an economic tailspin and this could ignite another war. Although Palestinians in Gaza blame Hamas first and foremost, they might in exasperation turn their rage on Israel. Bear in mind that Yahya Sinwar, the new Hamas leader in Gaza, is a feared Hamas hit-man who tortured and executed Gazans suspected of disloyalty. People in Gaza will think twice about try to buck him.



 

David Essing

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