Over the last five years, Israeli politics has been a one man show. Sure, Shelly made a somewhat loud albeit brief noise as she rallied for her ill considered, popularist and dangerous policies to drive housing prices down faster than the great depression. Sure, Lapid soared for that brief moment after the last elections as polls named him as the nation’s preferred Prime Minister, and Moshe Kahlon was and remains popular because of his successes with the telecommunication providers. But in reality, since reassuming office in 2009, no leader has posed a serious threat to Bibi, and when threats have arisen, Israel’s master politician has expertly weaved his way around them.
The war in Gaza has the potential to change this. Of course Bibi appears extremely popular right now. In times of crisis, the Israeli nation rallies behind its leader. This is all the more so when that leader happens to be as eloquent and polished as Netanyahu, able to so clearly articulate Israel’s case to the world.
It is worth remembering though, that in the spring and summer of 2006, Ehud Olmert was also at the height of his popularity. Prior to and throughout that summer’s war against Hezbollah, the Prime Minister enjoyed broad public support, and although initially taking criticism for leading with an air campaign (as Bibi has done), Olmert was seen as a decisive leader.
When the fighting in Gaza ends, questions will inevitably arise as they did in 2006. How is it that Israel was so complacent in the face of the growing tunnel threat (and do tunnels exist on any other border)? How did Israel allow Hamas to gain so many rockets? Was the decision not to launch a land campaign in 2012 an error that ultimately contributed to the heavy casualties now? Why were IDF APC’s reportedly equipped with substandard armor? Why were Israel’s leaders, in the days leading up to the war, so confident that no major escalation would occur?
Bibi Netanyahu is indeed a great politician, and perhaps he will emerge unscathed, or even strengthened from this campaign. Perhaps (let us hope) when the dust settles, it will be absolutely clear that despite the painful cost, the IDF has won an overwhelming victory. But history suggests that Prime Ministers are blamed for perceived military failures (whether they are at fault or not) and perhaps for this reason, for the first time since 2009, Bibi Netanayhu could be truly vulnerable.