Netanyahu’s Recklessness Has Brought War Upon Israel

Yossi Verter (Haaretz) 10 October 2023

Hamas, a 'small' terror organization exposed the nakedness of Israel, a regional superpower. While the failure is first and foremost that of the Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet security service, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be able to wash his hands of this travesty

First of all, it’s a disgrace; a deep shame fills our hearts with fury and our eyes with tears. It’s a personal tragedy, primarily for hundreds of families living near the Gaza border, who are experiencing a living hell. Then there are the hundreds of killed and wounded, including many children, followed by the shocking ease with which armed terrorists were simply able to roam around at their pleasure, in vehicles and on foot, entering Israel on the eve of a holiday, going into kibbutzim, moshavim and towns, and doing as they pleased there. For hours, residents had to fend for themselves against the terrorists, with no help from the army or police, who were far from the scene.

Israel was humiliated and routed on Saturday. A “small” terror organization exposed the nakedness of a regional superpower with intelligence and cyber capabilities that are among the best in the world. Even if all of the Gaza Strip is destroyed (and there is no need for this), and even if the heads of Mohammed Deif, Khaled Meshal, Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and their associates roll in the alleys, this will not make up for the biggest security failure since 1973. It will not sweeten the bitter taste of the debacle, and it won’t ease the shock of the number of those killed and kidnapped.

The slogan “the debacle of ’73 – the debacle of ’23” took on proportions we never thought we’d see here. The failure is first of all that of Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet security service. They had no idea what was cooking right under their noses.

A reliable political source who is very familiar with intelligence material told me on Saturday that he and his associates received no information in recent weeks about a possible Hamas attack. No intelligence was presented to them.

Reports they saw dealt mainly with provocations by Hezbollah in the north and with the volatile situation in the West Bank. Only a few hours before the attack, some fragments of information starting arriving, “reports we didn’t know exactly what to do with,” the source said.

In that sense, the failure of 2023 is graver than the one of 1973. Then, for many months before the Yom Kippur War broke out, there was abundant intelligence that was not seriously addressed due to that damned “conception.” Now too, there was a conception: Hamas wouldn’t dare; Hamas is interested in maintaining quiet in the Gaza Strip, preferring to stoke the flames in the West Bank; the economic easements would calm the situation.

That’s what the army briefings were about and that’s what analysts parroted. The same analysts were in all the TV studios on Saturday, explaining how even a month or two ago, things were said and done in the Strip that hinted at what was coming.

This isn’t wisdom in hindsight, nor is it a theoretical controversy between different security and intelligence approaches. We’ve all known for many months about the chaotic situation this quintessentially incompetent government was leading us into (in 1973, the failure was only a security-related one, but now it’s multifaceted, evident on all fronts). This led primarily to a weakening of the army, the erosion of deterrence and a blow to readiness.

In the Middle East, there is no vacuum. If we grow weaker, our enemies grow stronger. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been aware of the damage to the defense establishment and the erosion of deterrence ever since he and Justice Minister Yariv Levin launched their judicial coup. He dismissed this disdainfully. The father of the new concept that “everything will be all right” belittled it.

He is to blame for the criminal recklessness. The famed statesman placed his bets on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia meant to guarantee safe political shores. And these are also receding now.

Intelligence and military echelons will have to pay the full price, at every level. However, politicians will not be able to wash their hands of this affair by putting the blame on the defense establishment (and the diligent advisers at the Prime Minister’s Office are surely at work on this already).

Netanyahu and his reckless and deranged agenda, along with his government of horrors, which has hacked this nation to pieces, have brought this war upon us. Hamas, seeing a torn public, riven and ridden with hate, with a defense establishment whose best people refuse or consider refusing to serve, found it hard to resist the temptation.

Who were the first to show up for duty? They were the “anarchists,” the “pus,” the ones told to “go to hell,” the people called “not Zionists, not Israelis, not patriots.” Who were first to take up arms and fight the terrorists? They were the residents of communities along the Gaza border who on the whole did not vote for this government, and whom Netanyahu hasn’t bothered to talk to or visit for years. They were the first line of defense and the first to absorb the lethal blows.

Fifteen years have passed since Netanyahu promised to topple the Hamas government. In those years he’s managed to successfully topple Israeli society, military deterrence and orderly governance – and Hamas became a trained army. No government in the world can escape unscathed from such an event. This is a historic failure, a total collapse of all systems.

After the Second Lebanon War, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert managed to survive for two years, but he moved around like a zombie prime minister. This will also be Netanyahu’s fate. At least Olmert had a normal government, without the gang of evildoers and thugs who have been making our lives miserable for the last nine months. This meritless cabinet is the most extremist, shallow and alarming one we’ve ever had.

Its extremist members and their associates spent the High Holiday season inciting conflict with secular and liberal Israel. The prime minister doesn’t want to see these people; he’s avoided convening the cabinet for long periods, sometimes for months. To his regret, in the coming days and weeks he will have to confront this forum many times, hearing the battle cries of his extremist partners, cries meant to gather likes on X (formerly Twitter) rather than managing the state and a military campaign in a judicious manner.

Another issue is how the interactions with the opposition will look. The government lacks the public support for a broad ground operation in Gaza, which would cost many soldiers’ lives. The option of an “emergency government” was placed on the table on Saturday night.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid has no interest in joining the government, but in a meeting with Netanyahu he challenged him and offered that he dump his extremist coalition partners Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, break up his large, talentless cabinet and set up a “limited, professional emergency government” (with Lapid, Benny Gantz, Gadi Eizenkot and of course Defense Minister Yoav Gallant).

This is a sophisticated move by Lapid. He took initiative before Gantz, came out looking responsible, and the vast majority of the public is likely to support his proposal. But in practice, there’s no need. If Netanyahu wants to increase his circle of advisers, he can set up an ad hoc forum with the opposition leaders plus Eizenkot.

Even now, Lapid and Gantz cannot forget whom they’re dealing with. They can be a responsible opposition to Netanyahu without giving him political defense – under conditions Lapid dictates. They need to demand an agreed-upon date for an election. Netanyahu quickly signaled that he was not interested: Such a plan would mean breaking up the right-wing bloc and a loss in the 2024 election. As far as he’s concerned, his criminal trial still stands above all.

Any responsible leader would have announced on Saturday that the judicial “reform” was off the table forever. Not frozen, not postponed, but buried for good. But Israel’s prime minister is a coward. Even when he now has a justified opportunity to retract the ruinous campaign he launched on January 4, he will hesitate. He probably wouldn’t dare make such an announcement.

Netanyahu will no longer be “Mr. security.” He hasn’t been one for a long time. The terror attacks and the number of people killed in the last nine months and Saturday’s fatalities are all his responsibility, as is the present war, which may still spread to other fronts. He is facing a lose-lose situation.

What are the possible moves in continuing this war? Each one of them is bad for the government. If he chooses to keep it at a low grade, seeking to end the affair quickly, he will project weakness, possibly encouraging further attacks. If he tries to destroy Gaza, including the use of a land invasion, this will incur a heavy loss of lives.

We will also have to handle the hostage situation. It’s clear that at some point there will be a prisoner exchange. The biggest murderers will go free, with wide public support. This will also highlight the scope of the defeat and national humiliation we experienced on the holiday of Simchat Torah.


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