Thursday, July 18, 2019

Netanyahu: Master of stealth - Amnon Lord

by Amnon Lord

It is Benjamin Netanyahu's ability to recognize distant threats that would have been catastrophic for Israel had they not been handled in time that has kept him in power for over 10 years.

"Those who want to know what is really going on with the Palestinians in the territories must not rely on the information that passes through the filter of the Israeli leadership" and the First Intifada should never have taken the country by surprise.

These difficult remarks, made in February 1988, came from senior military correspondent Ze'ev Schiff. They beg the question: If the outbreak of the First Intifada was so severe in what it exposed, what does this teach us about other fronts, like, for example, Iran, or late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, or the nuclear reactors in other countries? Media consumers are all too familiar with the phrases "The security echelon believes…," "Intelligence officials surmise…," and "According to Western intelligence officials…"

Throughout the years, these officials, who can be categorized as "Israel's security establishment," have made additional and no less grave mistakes than those of the First Intifada. Commentators briefed by the security elite and senior Labor party members in the 1980s tended to discount one man in particular.

When everyone in Israel saw the Iran-Iraq War as a fact of life, Benjamin Netanyahu, nearing the end of his tenure as Jerusalem's envoy to the UN, predicted the end of the conflict was near, and the drastic change it would have on Israel's strategic status as a result.

He did not belong to the security or political in-crowd. And when the Left's leadership was undermined in 1995, there were those who recalled his ability to independently assess situations, if not accept at face value the assessments of "Western intelligence officials." It takes a certain kind of personality to be able to hold one's own on this front.

Netanyahu's ability to recognize distant threats that would have been catastrophic for Israel had they not been handled in time is the basis for his over 10 years in the role of premier.

Netanyahu entered office in 2009, at the height of the global financial crisis, the repercussions of which continue to reverberate across Europe and the US. At the same time, a mass wave of Africans were illegally infiltrating Israel through the Egyptian border.

The financial crisis threatened to bring about the collapse of Israel's economy, and along with the flow of migrants, could at a certain stage have resulted in the downfall of Israeli society. But Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's policy of budget cuts and cutting red tape to promote growth led the Israeli economy to 5% growth in less than a year.

Faced with a plethora of legal difficulties, there is no doubt the physical barrier on the border with the Sinai Peninsula, which was completed at the end of Netanyahu's first term in office, prevented the illegal migration issue from becoming a ticking time bomb.

On the issue of Iran, which would become his flagship project, Netanyahu worked in constant friction with the "security establishment." He was not the first to be put through the ringer.

"On the most confidential matters … from the outset, I was forced to disagree with all the veterans of the Haganah [paramilitary Jewish defense group that eventually became the Israel Defense Forces] … and the General Staff," Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, testified to a commission of inquiry at the height of the 1948 War of Independence, during which senior officers were known to refer to the diplomatic echelon as a "whorehouse."

And sometimes, even an isolated operation that seems like a failure in the short-term can bear fruit later on.

This is exactly what happened with Netanyahu's address to the US Congress in 2015. As with the actions he takes, Netanyahu's thought process is not always clear, that is, until you eventually see Iran under severe economic and security siege.

Let us recall what Netanyahu's enemy, Israel Democratic Party chief Ehud Barak, a man who knows him from his time in the elite Sayeret Matkal special forces unit once said: Netanyahu is a master of stealth. He knows how to achieve results.

The aggressive preventative war Israel has waged for the last two, if not four years, against Iranian interests in Syria is an impressive achievement. The strategy of bombing anything that moves has created the image of deterrent regional power Israel currently enjoys. And on the Palestinian front: In his first term as prime minister, the US did not recognize Jerusalem as part of the State of Israel; now its embassy is situated in our eternal capital.

Amnon Lord


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