Op-ed: Day 271 of the war

Dangerous incompetents at the heart of government are subverting Israel’s war on Hamas

The release of a Gaza hospital chief back into the terrorists’ embrace is, of course, anybody’s fault but that of the minister in charge of the prisons * Is Corbyn finished? * How close is Iran to the bomb?

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Mohammad Abu Salmiya (left), director of Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, speaks after his release by Israel, July 1, 2024 (Video screenshot); National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (right) at a court hearing in Jerusalem on July 2, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Mohammad Abu Salmiya (left), director of Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, speaks after his release by Israel, July 1, 2024 (Video screenshot); National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (right) at a court hearing in Jerusalem on July 2, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

This Editor’s Note was sent out earlier Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

When you appoint dangerous incompetents to vital ministerial positions, don’t be surprised when the result is dangerous incompetence.

Thus, on Monday, Mohammad Abu Salmiya, the director of Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, who was arrested in November for alleged complicity with Hamas, was released from detention in Nafha Prison in the Negev and sent home to Gaza. Under Abu Salmiya’s watch, Shifa had developed into a major Hamas command center, where the IDF has killed hundreds of gunmen and uncovered a substantial tunnel network, where hostages were held, and where, according to the IDF, at least one hostage, Noa Marciano, was killed.

The mind boggles at the denunciations and threats that would have rained down from the far right on any other government that presided over the debacle of Abu Salmiya’s homecoming. But the far right, of course, is a core and dominant part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, and far-right Netanyahu appointee Itamar Ben Gvir is the minister of national security, responsible for the Israel Prison Service, in turn responsible for the incarceration of Abu Salmiya and the fiasco of his release.

An oft-arrested thug horrifyingly placed by Netanyahu in charge of the forces of law and order, which he is now in the process of brutalizing, Ben Gvir is entirely incapable of fulfilling ministerial responsibilities or, obviously, of acknowledging his failures to do so.

Thus he has blamed the release of a central alleged abettor of monstrous terrorists on the Shin Bet, which has in fact long been warning that there are insufficient cells to hold the large numbers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad suspects being taken into custody during the Gaza war.

Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir speaks at a meeting of his Otzma Yehudit party, at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 10, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

For his part, Netanyahu, also incapable of taking responsibility for anything unsuccessful — starting with the October 7 catastrophe itself — characteristically contrived to blame his reviled High Court, for having expressed concern over the conditions in which Gaza terror suspects have been held by the IDF at another facility, Sde Teiman.

The bigger picture is actually still more ignominious. Abu Salmiya was only one of some 55 Gaza terror-affiliated suspects who were blithely transported from jail back to the embrace of Hamas because of a lack of space. The Prison Service deemed them less dangerous than other inmates, notably those from the West Bank, who it calculated would immediately resume terrorist activities.

Shifa Hospital director Mohammed Abu Salmiya makes a statement after his release from Israeli prison alongside other detainees, at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, July 1, 2024. (Bashar TALEB / AFP)

Worse still, the Shin Bet has made clear that it has frequently refrained from arresting terror suspects in Gaza because, despite the significant value of the material they can provide under questioning, it knows there would be no facility available to hold them.

And thus, under the stewardship of a minister who should have no place in government, Israel is subverting its own war effort.

We should, unfortunately, also brace now for the dire consequences of similar incompetence by the second far-right pyromaniac at the heart of the Israeli government, in the vital ministry where he presides with parallel high-risk arrogant ineptitude.

Bezalel Smotrich is already hard at work to financially destroy the Palestinian Authority, a deeply problematic institution with which Israel nonetheless coordinates security efforts in the West Bank, and which Netanyahu may yet have to afford some sort of indirect role in Gaza. Like Ben Gvir, Smotrich is also an apologist for West Bank Jewish settler extremists, and an advocate of West Bank and Gaza settlement policies that would destroy Israel’s Jewish majority and stretch the IDF’s standing army, reserve ranks and resources beyond breaking point.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 13, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With the Israeli economy battered by the war, overseas investment at risk, and Israelis themselves wary of their own financial futures, it would only take an intemperate comment, much less action, by the finance minister to trigger a kind of internal run on the Israeli economy.

And Smotrich is reliably intemperate.


Post-Corbyn Labour heads to victory in the UK, but the former leader may not be finished

Four years after it ousted its viciously anti-Israel leader Jeremy Corbyn, Britain’s Labour Party is heading for an overwhelming victory on Thursday in general elections — set to end 14 years of Conservative Party rule by the biggest margin in decades.

The collapse of support for the Conservatives is frankly staggering — a function, among other factors, of the belated realization that leaving the European Union almost five years ago was a disastrous act of self-harm. Then there was the accumulated horror at the dishonesty of former prime minister Boris Johnson, who was eventually forced to resign amid a rash of scandals including allegations that he misled Parliament over parties held in his office amid COVID and his tolerance for alleged sexual misconduct by a key party loyalist. And that was capped by the spectacular damage inflicted upon the economy during his successor Liz Truss’s 50 days in power (the shortest prime ministerial term in British history).

Truss’s successor Rishi Sunak — a first British Asian PM, though yet another product of the dominant Oxford University prime ministerial conveyor belt — has failed to restore confidence in Conservative party governance. And Labour’s post-Corbyn leader Keir Starmer (himself a postgraduate Oxford student) has evidently managed to persuade the mainstream electorate that his center-left party is the more fair-minded and the more trustworthy — much as Tony Blair did when steering Labour back into power in 1997, after an 18-year era of Conservative rule.

Former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn (C) joins protesters with placards and flags taking part in the ‘National March For Palestine’ in central London on November 11, 2023. (HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

There’s no telling whether Labour would have been steaming to victory in these elections were Corbyn still at its helm, though it is highly unlikely that it would have been faring anywhere near as well under a far-left leader with whom it lost the 2019 elections with its lowest showing in over 80 years and whose very patriotism was widely questioned.

But Corbyn may not be finished yet. Suspended from Labour by Starmer, essentially for refusing to acknowledge the extent to which antisemitism had thrived in the party under his leadership, he is running as an independent in his north London constituency and is deemed to have at least an outside chance of defeating the Labour candidate.

Beyond Corbyn himself, Labour is set for so vast a victory — more than doubling the 205 seats it currently holds in the 650-member House of Commons — with so many candidates likely to triumph in what would normally have been deemed unwinnable seats, that there are certain to be numerous incoming MPs whose ideology is closer to that of Corbyn than of Starmer, including as regards Israel.

From our archive – Op-ed: Corbyn, who sought Israel’s demise, is an anti-Semite. Labour must kick him out

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer walks with his wife Victoria at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool, England, on Oct. 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Jon Super, File)

To the relief of a Jewish community that really came of age when battling against Corbyn, Starmer has been broadly supportive of Israel since October 7 — defiantly and unacceptably so as far as Labour’s unreconstructed Corbynites are concerned. His wife is Jewish and they have relatives in Israel. As The Times of Israel’s Robert Philpot notes in this election-eve analysis, those relatives were, “Thank God,” in Starmer’s words, not directly affected by the Hamas invasion of October 7.

For Corbyn, notoriously, Hamas and Hezbollah were “friends” who merited an invitation to address British MPs in 2009. He later claimed to regret using the word, even as he continued to meet with them.


How close is Iran to the bomb?

The world no longer knows for certain how far Iran may be from attaining nuclear weapons.

It knows the regime has the missiles to deliver a bomb, with the range to reach Israel and far beyond.

It knows Iran is enriching growing quantities of uranium to near weapons-grade levels, that it currently has enough 60% enriched uranium to potentially build three nuclear bombs, and that it has been installing increasingly advanced centrifuges at its deeply subterranean Fordo facility to enable still faster enrichment. But that knowledge is partial and not entirely reliable since Iran has reduced its cooperation with the UN’s nuclear watchdog and its inspectors.

The world does not definitively know, however, how advanced are Iran’s weaponization efforts — its capacity to actually manufacture a nuclear warhead and effectively detonate it. The received wisdom is that the regime is anywhere from several months to more than a year from achieving that capability. But there is also a recognition that part of that process can be advanced in nearly impossible-to-detect laboratory conditions.

A student looks at Iran’s domestically built centrifuges in an exhibition of the country’s nuclear achievements, in Tehran, Iran, February 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

According to a New York Times report last week, the Iranian leadership is in the midst of a “strategic debate” over whether the time has come to try to break out to the bomb — in part because of the near-complete failure of its unprecedented direct attack on Israel in April with hundreds of drones and missiles. Dedicated to the elimination of Israel, and not dependably deterred by the Cold War apocalypse-averting doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, the ayatollahs may also be tempted by the notion that Israel is particularly vulnerable at present.

“If the Iranians had been enriching uranium at current levels just a few years ago, when the region was not such a tinderbox, Israel would almost certainly be considering military options to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities,” The New York Times report asserted, citing the assessment of a European diplomat involved in discussions with Tehran.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, left, sit down for a meeting at the Pentagon in Washington, Tuesday, June 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Thus it was striking and noteworthy that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in his halting public English remarks at the start of his Pentagon talks last week with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, amid all the complexities and strains of war against Hamas and potential devastating war against Hezbollah, chose to highlight the immediacy of the Iranian nuclear threat.

“The greatest threat to the future of the world and the future of our region is Iran,” Gallant told his counterpart. “Time is running out,” he added. “Now is the time to realize the commitment of American administrations over the years to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons.”

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