Josef Olmert
Josef Olmert

Bennett Talks and Talks -Is Netanyahu Revisited?

It is a well-known folkloristic Israeli story about the guys who do not finish whatever it is that they do, but run and tell the friends about their accomplishments. It may be good for kids in youth movements , but not exactly so, just to put it mildly, when it relates to a PM. This is a style of presumed leadership which was perfected to an art in the Netanyahu era. In fact ,Netanyahu lived on his words, with his undisputed rhetorical talents and became known as a great speaker all over the world. At some point in time however he lost the ability to distinguish between reality and style, between actions and words, and some of his UN appearances became a matter of a universal laughing stock. So, when all this is no secret, the question is why Naftali Bennett tries to out smart Netanyahu with a relentless stream of talks and statements which on many occasions fall into the old youth movement Israeli habit cited above. The original usually is better than the imitation and that applies in this case as well. Bennett is who he is , for better or worse, but he ain’t Netanyahu, nor should he be.

The latest example was provided by Bennett in his Knesset speech when he exposed a Mossad operation intended to reveal unknown facts about the fate of the missing IAF navigator, the hero Ron Arad. Immediately upon his speech the Israeli and international publics were bombarded by ”well informed Israeli security sources” claiming that this was a botched operation, and with them came the inevitable subsequent PM office clarifications that it was a ”highly successful operation”. Then it was informed and not denied, that the Israeli Defense Minister Gantz was told by Bennett minutes before the speech about what he was about to say. Well, a comedy of mistakes when the military censorship is instructed to prevent any publication about the operation, senior ministers clash in public about it and altogether the image of the Mossad may be tarnished . Rule number one of good spokesmanship is that you never say something which opens a Pandora box, rather do the opposite, but Bennett did exactly that. It may not be too much of a wild guess to connect this statement to a political interest-Bennett is lagging in the polls-Bennett needs to show success, and Bennett did what Netanyahu used to do -Bragging about a military/intelligence operation. This is a safe bet with the Israeli public, or used to be, as times may change, and it is no more the key to gain in polls.

That said, Here is a positive side of this Bennett statement, the fact that Israel never abandons its lost sons and daughters. Pidyon Shevuyyim[Redemption of prisoners] is a sacred Jewish value , and one which distinguishes Israel from so many other states. Allow me a personal comment-as a Lebanese-Syrian expert, I expressed my opinion on the Ron Arad tragedy , and few weeks after his being taken prisoner in late 1986, his late mother Batya Arad and wife Tami came to my home to consult with me about the case. I will be extatically happy to hear ANYTHING about this great hero, even the slightest bit of hope, so my readers should rest assured, that my comments about Bennett’s statement have nothing to do with any partisan interest in mind. Also I should mention the possibility, that the statement was made as part of a deception maneuver by the PM , after all he knows better and more than us. We commoners are not supposed to know all, but I mention this mostly because I do not want to rule out this possibility, though all the leaks coming from Gantz direction indicate that this is not the case and unfortunately so.

Bennett has a problem-it is called legitimacy, and it is there because a PM chairing a faction of 6 members only is , by definition, a PM who lacks legitimacy , particularly as some polls show, that were elections to take place now, his Yamina Party may not qualify to any representation in the Knesset. Legitimacy is not acquired by talks , surely not by bravado, and there is too much of it in Bennett and other ministers’ statements, especially when dealing with such a sensitive issue as the Iran nuclear program and Israel’s possible reactions. Bennett mainly, but also Gantz to a smaller extent, create the impression of imminent ”something” which is going to happen. Somehow it seems that the Iranians are not so impressed with all this, and their stampede towards the bomb continues unstoppably. Bennett should be the first to understand, that it was Netanyahu who created a sense of imminent drama about Iran , but did it during the 12 years from 2009 to 2021. Drama, imminence , and other such words really become meaningless when being used SO often, and Bennett has to internalize it and act accordingly.

Bennett failed as yet to assert himself with authority as the PM. He is often and publicly rebuked by his ministers and on issues of great importance. Another notable example here is the statement about involving the IDF and the Security Service in the struggle against the rampant wave of murderous crime among Israeli Arabs, only to be immediately contradicted by all those mentioned by him. When Health Minister Horowitz who talks all the time about the Palestinians takes his Meretz Party delegation to meet Mahmoud Abbas, he tells in public, that he notified Bennett but he is not in the business of asking for his permission. So, imagine the Palestinians in Ramallah and Gaza, the Hizballah in Beirut and the Iranians in Tehran watching and internalizing all this. Should they take Bennett seriously?. Bennett should start being the ACTUAL PM, the one that Minister Horowitz DOES ask for his permission, and not being a figure head of a divided government. The stakes are big and the problems are urgent. Running a state as Israel is not an exercise in apprenticeship,

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina