Foreign Policy Blogs

Bibi Staying Cool

Addressing his cabinet yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu said that Israel does not want a war in Gaza.  One of Netanyahu’s aides said, “There’s a sensitive situation in the Middle East, which is one big boiling pot; there’s the international arena; [and] there’s the Palestinian move in the United Nations in September… On the other hand, if we locate a terrorist cell en route to launching rockets or carrying out an attack on the [border] fence, we won’t hesitate to strike at them.”  Assuming the aid’s comments truly reflect Bibi’s thoughts, the prime minister has made a very wise decision.

Prime Minister Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel doesn't want war in Gaza.

Israel reserves the right to defend its people and territory and should continue to go after those in Gaza caught launching mortars and rockets, regardless of who they are and any cease fire put in place.  However, a full-scale invasion, which some Israeli politicians and citizens are calling for, would be ill-advised.  The Middle East is a different place than when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead.  Unlike in 2009, Egypt, who is now trying to be the unofficial mediator for all things related to the Palestinians, would likely break off formal ties with Israel as a result of any kind of invasion. Turkey would probably follow suit.  And what if Hezbollah got involved in attempts to boost its popularity?  For the sake of regional stability, Israel cannot afford an invasion.  It also cannot allow itself to fall into even deeper isolation than it already has.  Instead, it should continue to work on its security around the Sinai, including offering assistance to help Egypt with its Bedouin problems; continue to develop more batteries for Iron Dome, and continue its attempts to mend relations with both Egypt and Turkey.

Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees have launched over 80 rockets into Israel over the last week, killing six Israelis.

Returning to Bibi, his aid’s comments reflect several things.  First, Bibi has thought about and understands what I wrote above.  Second, he doesn’t want to give the Palestinians any political ammunition going into their push for UN recognition in September.  And third, on a more individual level, he is well aware of the potential domestic repercussions of a botched or merely unsuccessful invasion.  Unless substantial amounts of rockets continue to hit and paralyze massive amounts of Israel’s population in the next week or two, an invasion of Gaza will lead many to accuse him of trying to further distract the public from their social protests.  Bibi’s seat as Prime Minister is more than warm and there is already talk of early elections.  The unnecessary death of Israeli soldiers, in the wake of social protests, would all but guarantee the end of his premiership.  Currently, the only reasonable argument for an invasion would be to secure the power of deterrence.  At the moment, however, this shouldn’t be a priority, especially because it’s clear that the enemy is far inferior militarily.

Regardless of what the overriding factor was in Bibi’s decision to play it cool, it was the right move.  The hope is that by putting away some pride in the short term, Israel will benefit in the long term.  But, as the world has seen over the last year, things can change in the Middle East in the blink of an eye.

 
  • Eugene Belenitsky

    I agree. I think response must be moderate. I like that your article highlights the consequences of other possible actions.

    • Rob Lattin

      Thank, Eugene!

  • HLevine

    I really like this analysis, Rob. And I also agree that Bibi’s moves as of late are strategic and well though out, considering the tense and constantly-changing situation in which Israel operates. Well done!

    • Rob Lattin

      Hopefully he will keep up this up, but I also he does not try to impede the social protests, because they are so important!

  • Shir Engel

    The article is well written and there are some point that I agree on, but the situation has become unbearable. Israel is consistently trying to negotiating and then the Islamist movements attack the Israeli’s citizens and soldiers, so what we can do? to continue to leave like that? How does Israel keep it deterrence if it can’t attack back?

    • Rob Lattin

      Shir,

      In my article, I explicitly say that Israel should continue to defend itself against those sending the rockets. However, a fullscale war in Gaza has too many risks at the given moment. While the rockets are terrible, in my personal opinion, unless they start numbering in the 50′s-60′s each day, the political fall out that Israel would incur if they went to war right now would be too great.

      Best,
      Rob

  • David Zussman

    Great article Robbie! Glad to see you blowin up!

Author

Rob Lattin
Rob Lattin

Rob Lattin recently completed his Master's in International Affairs at the City College of New York, where he won the Frank Owarish prize for graduating at the top of his class. His thesis explored Democratic Peace Theory and its applicability to small powers, and used the relationship between Turkey and Israel as its case study. Rob received his B.A. in Near Eastern Studies and Political Science, graduating from the University of Arizona with honors.

Rob has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and has lived in Haifa, Israel. In addition to blogging for FPB, he is the Foreign Affairs Correspondent for Jspace.com. He currently splits his time between Washington D.C. and New York City.

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