Events in Britain over the last three weeks have made Israeli politics look dull by comparison. After another lightning few days, Theresa May has emerged triumphant from the smouldering wreckage of post Brexit Government and an extraordinary Conservative party leadership contest. The manner in which she steered calmly through the political minefield of the past few months is a good indication of her considerable abilities as a tough strategist not given to hyperbole or hyperactivity. She is focused on getting the job done.
Her main priority, after her fast-track journey to Number 10, will be to appoint a cabinet and get on with the messy negotiations to implement the result of the EU referendum. In a campaign speech in Birmingham on 11 July, she set out her own brand of conservatism with nods to tackling social inequality, corporate greed and sky-high house prices.
On the more specific question of how she will differ from David Cameron on Israel and the Middle East there are a few interesting insights. As Home Secretary she has demonstrated extensive and warm support for the Jewish Community in word and deed. In a 2015 Yom Haatzmaut speech she said ‘if the Jewish Community is not secure then our national fabric is diminished.’ She understands deeply the threat to the Jewish community and has spearheaded the fight against antisemitism, fully supporting the work of the Community Security Trust in the UK, in partnership with the Police, and granting nearly £13.4m of Government money to boost their work.
As one of the lead cabinet ministers designing and implementing the Government’s counter-extremism strategy she has demonstrated a tough stance combating radicalisation in the UK. She has taken a bold, proactive approach to excluding extreme Islamists from the country and deporting troublemakers such as the Salafi radical Abu Qatada. Visiting Israel in 2014 she saw up close the traumatic events that led to Operation Protective Edge and the conflict in Gaza. Just a year earlier she dealt with the aftermath of the horrific murder of a British soldier, Lee Rigby, on the streets of London by Islamist terrorists. These experiences formalised her belief that ‘words lead to deeds’ and that extreme ideologies that preach violence have real consequences on the streets of Britain and Israel.
The job of Home Secretary is as hard as it gets in UK Government. The corridors of this great Department of State echo with past crises that have dented or ended promising careers. It is a job that requires an iron grip on the complex details of security, policing and border control. But since 9/11 the job has evolved significantly. The Home Secretary reviews real time intelligence from MI5, GCHQ and MI6; bans terrorist organisations; signs warrants for the interception of communications and is involved in every counter-terrorist operation in Britain. As a result, our new Prime Minister has an intricate understanding of the numerous terrorist groups emanating from the Middle East, their ideologies and operational capabilities. This kind of knowledge is crucial to understanding the current threats to Israel and its unique security situation with Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates on its border. In terms of the bilateral relationship she has direct experience of the importance of intelligence, counter-terrorism and cyber security cooperation.
Theresa May faces a daunting task vis a vis the EU, although she has filled several shadow cabinet roles, her experience on economic posts is limited. But as the longest serving Home Secretary since 1951, and given the issues and operations she has managed, she is the most experienced and battle hardened Prime Minister on security matters since Winston Churchill.