Liberman’s unacceptable war on Netanyahu

Liberman’s unacceptable war on Netanyahu

If the foreign minister thinks the prime minister is doing a lousy job, he should either shut up when outvoted or quit, not publicly undermine the PM at the height of a bitter conflict with Hamas

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).

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference in the Knesset on July 15, 2014. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference in the Knesset on July 15, 2014. (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel is currently a nation at war. It has been targeted with some 1,300 rockets over the past eight days fired at its population almost everywhere in the country.

That “only” one Israeli has been killed at time of writing is not for Hamas’s want of trying; it is because of Israel’s system of alarms and bomb shelters, the fortified rooms built into new homes here for years, the discipline of its citizenry in following self-preservation procedures and, most importantly, the remarkable success of the Iron Dome rocket defense system in intercepting an estimated 90 percent of rockets heading into residential areas.

Unfortunately, being bombed incessantly is not an unfamiliar feeling for an Israel that endured the relentless suicide bombings of the Second Intifada, Hezbollah’s rocket fire in 2006, and two previous rounds of conflict with Hamas in the past six years.

It no longer surprises Israelis that our conflicts are misreported and misunderstood abroad. It no longer surprises us that Israel rather than Hamas is blamed for the suffering of Gazans in whose midst Hamas operates, and from near whose homes and schools it cynically fires on Israel. It no longer surprises us that Israel is attacked for imposing a security blockade on Gaza, while Hamas gets a free pass for smuggling in materials and diverting those supplies allowed into the Strip to manufacture thousands of rockets and the reinforced bunkers in which it hides its weaponry, its command centers, and its terror chiefs during the wars it starts. It no longer surprises us, but it still outrages and frustrates and disappoints us.

One thing that does surprise us, this time around, however, is to watch our own foreign minister openly undermine our prime minister and government at the height of this crisis.

On Tuesday afternoon, Avigdor Liberman convened a press conference at which he urged the reconquest of Gaza as the only means to end Hamas rocket attacks once and for all, and during which he derided “all this hesitation” about an escalated Israeli military response to the rocket fire.

Liberman had been outvoted a few hours earlier at a meeting of the inner security cabinet — Israel’s most important decision-making forum — when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prevailed in deciding to accept an Egyptian ceasefire proposal. The proposal quickly proved unworkable, since Hamas rejected it.

Rather than abiding by the principle of collective responsibility, the foreign minister called in the media to set out his own, alternative approach to the resolution of Israel’s wars with Hamas. That this was a nakedly self-serving political gambit goes without saying. Liberman meanders all over the center-right of the political spectrum as he deems expedient; at the end of the previous round of conflict, Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, Liberman had hailed Israel’s conduct of a limited, eight-day campaign in which it did not use ground forces, declaring that “Strength is not only to strike, but also to exercise restraint,” and even praising then-Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi for his “responsible role” in resolving the crisis.

Untenably, on Tuesday, Liberman sought to score points at the expense of Israelis’ faith in their leadership. Whether his prescription for Gaza is right or wrong — does Israel really want to reconquer Gaza and retake responsibility for 1.6 million Palestinians there? How many Israelis might die in the process? How will Israel’s international legitimacy be affected? Are there better ways to de-fang Hamas, including via the quietly flourishing Israeli-Egyptian axis? — the fact is that he was not elected to run this country. If he thinks the man who was is doing a lousy job, he should quit the government, not undermine it from within. Least of all from his position at the helm of Israel’s entire diplomatic hierarchy

The foreign minister is not the only prominent Israeli government politician to be openly opposing Netanyahu. Lesser-known figures including ministers Yisrael Katz (Likud) and Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu), and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) were also spouting criticism in the course of Tuesday, and the eminently dispensable Danon was fired later Tuesday. But Liberman is the prime minister’s former bureau chief and was his political partner going into January 2013’s elections, when their two parties ran on a joint list (a partnership Liberman abrogated last week). He is seen as someone who knows the prime minister well, and here he is telling us that Netanyahu doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Now is not the time for settling scores. Now is the time for Israel’s leaders to put all other considerations aside, discuss how best to keep this country safe, take decisions and unite behind them. Netanyahu, in a brief appearance later Tuesday, vowed to “ignore the background noise,” act clear-headedly, and “do what is right” to restore calm for the people of Israel. But when this conflict ends, so, too, should Avigdor Liberman’s time in ministerial office.

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