Some Thoughts and Speculations on the Crisis in Israel

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For more on the last day’s events in Israel, I recommend the sources and the list I noted in the post immediately before this one.

The following are just some best guesses on my part and what I would call guidance in where to find the best information and how to think about what is unfolding.

The first point is that Israel has been in a state of political paralysis and stalemate for the better part of a year. Both leaders of the opposition have now offered to join an emergency national unity government for the duration of this conflict. I’ve seen people saying maybe this is how Netanyahu finally puts his political problems behind him because of national unity in the face of war. Alternatively, that the opposition leaders are being craven in offering to join.

Both arguments mistake the situation pretty dramatically. When a country faces a catastrophic attack, the opposition joins with the government. That’s just how it works. More specifically, there’s probably some real value in not having Netanyahu dependent on the crazies in his current government at least in the very short term. (This is actually the argument Yair Lapid made explicitly.) More generally, I think there’s really no underestimating the impact of this on the country. It’s the kind of event that is likely transformative not just for Israel but for the region generally. I’ve seen lots of comparisons to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. That may sound like hyperbole but I don’t think it is. There’s no getting around the fact that Netanyahu was the one minding the shop when this event happened and it’s a catastrophic security failure for the state that is almost beyond imagining.

The other point to keep in mind is that much of the security reality of the last fifteen years in Israel has been one of a managed security by Hamas and governments of Benjamin Netanyahu. These are the fiercest of enemies. But they also have a symbiotic kind of political power. You hit us; we hit you back; now we have quiet. Netanyahu’s power as a national security leader is that he keeps all these conflicts at bay. He doesn’t solve them but manages them. He keeps the country safe but he also doesn’t get involved in debilitating foreign adventures. There are blow ups, rocket barrages, retaliatory strikes against Gaza to degrade Hamas’ military potential. But the strategic reality was equilibrium.

Or what seemed like equilibrium.

These events change all of that. It’s difficult to see how the Hamas military apparatus, as currently constituted, survives the retaliation for these attacks. That’s not to say these events have a military solution per se. But the military apparatus as opposed to the political and ideological movement is going to be devastated. The issue to keep an eye on for Israel’s political future is that much of Netanyahu’s security strategy and policy was based on the idea that something like this wasn’t possible. It turns out that equilibrium did not provide security.

These events discredit Netanyahu’s policy of ‘management’. I suspect the domestic political impact of that within Israel will be immense. That doesn’t mean that Netanyahu is doomed politically. It certainly doesn’t mean that a peace policy is going to come from it. But a short-term government of national unity is not going to change that reckoning for him, whatever it is. Netanyahu’s calling card within Israeli politics is that he’s the guy watching the shop and making sure something like this doesn’t happen. But it did. It happened on his watch. No short-term national unity government is going to change that.

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