President Obama’s embarrassed himself and his Administration yesterday when he met with the press producing probably one of the most foolish sounding statements in almost six years in office. In commenting as to how the U.S. is responding to Syria, he said that: “We don’t have a strategy yet….” The President so mis-spoke that the entire White House response team was on the case within minutes after he concluded the press conference.
What is going on in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy decision-making will be addressed at another time, but it is clear in the case of Israel, Netanyahu did have a strategy in how he conducted and how he, apparently, concluded the Gaza War with Hamas. While there is much to be said and will be discussed concerning the sequence of Israel’s moves against Hamas and the fundamental rationale behind the Netanyahu Government’s thinking; it is clear that Bibi had an entry strategy and apparently also an exit strategy. The fascinating questions which are now emerging are the political issues which permitted Bibi to respond at this time to the persistent Hamas shelling; the thinking behind his decision to end the war at this time; and the political consequences for him, his party, and his coalition in the post-Operation Protective Edge period.
The decision to attack by air, artillery, and eventually with boots on the ground could have been justified on numerous occasions over the past months. The murder of the three Yeshiva teen-agers increased the national support for a response at this time and he seized the moment. What is very problematic and yet to be totally explained was how sure was the Government that the Iron Dome system would be as remarkably success as it was? Second, if Israel had not gone in now and Hamas had not escalated its rocket barrage, the array of tunnels—about which Israel apparently only had partial knowledge and which were reportedly poised to be employed by Hamas against Israel on Rosh Hashanah—could have caused horrific casualties to innocent civilians. In this regard, Netanyahu was extremely fortunate in opting to go in at this time.
The decision to accept a ceasefire at this time and the political consequences are directly connected. If indeed Bibi decided to accept the ceasefire with only minimum consultation of the security cabinet as has been alleged by some of his coalition partners, then it might suggest that Netanyahu could be on the verge of a personal political transformation (unlikely) or the country is being led by the leading left wing member of this right wing Government’s major coalition partners (very likely).
Specifically, the question is whether Netanyahu is reading the regional turmoil being potentially transformative for Israel. There are many unknowns but if any or all of them are correct, they could have a dramatic impact for Israel and Netanyahu.
Did Bibi indeed meet with Abbas in Amman and come to some agreement including settlements and attacks on Israel in international forma?
Are Egypt and Israel working more closely now, unseen since the days of Sadat, against radical Islamist terrorists?
Did Israel receive assurances from the Saudis that if Israel moves to consider the Saudi 2002 Peace Proposal (now known as the Arab Peace Initiative) or at least parts of it, the Saudis would not press Israel?
Did the Emirates and Jordan join Egypt and Saudi Arabia in facilitating Israel’s war on terrorism and its position on Iran on condition that Israel agrees to do the “dirty work”, if necessary, without receiving public acknowledgement?
If any of these considerations or many others have changed Netanyahu’s calculus on dealing with Israel’s neighbors, then his major hurdle—an extremely difficult one—will be with the Likud Party and the Governing coalition. He recognizes the drop in his own personal popularity in the poll just released, yet he and his opponents or potential rivals know that Netanyahu faces no alternative candidate in the next election.