Naftali Bennett, Israel’s new prime minister, now needs political fortune and fortitude to stay focused on what should be Israel’s core values, notwithstanding the positions of some he has co-opted into his new government. To be sure, there are great risks in the newly-constituted governing coalition, and its success and longevity now stand wide open to serious question. It seems highly likely that Netanyahu will remain politically active, and quite possible that he might indeed return to the Prime Minister’s Residence.
I do have my issues with Benjamin Netanyahu and believe that his dispatch from Balfour Street can finally enable Israel to move forward if Bennett can navigate the treacherous waters to make his coalition work and remain true to his stated objectives.
That said, Bibi’s positive achievements during his long political tenure ought be appreciated with gratitude. Others have poignantly and appropriately pointed out Bibi’s serious flaws and failings; without in any way negating or denying his shortcomings, this blogpost will focus upon some of his positive accomplishments.
Firstly, Netanyahu understood that Israel’s relationship with the United States was not strictly the interactions of one ally with another, but rather, that Israel was effectively America’s subordinate vassal. Previously, Israel had always assumed a subservient role to the United States in its foreign policies and relationships, and while there still remain aspects of an unhealthy dependency, Netanyahu had occasions to deviate from the understrapper character role by taking actions and making public pronouncements at odds with stated United States policy.
Seeing this, the other nations of the world reassessed their own relationships with Israel (and with the United States). Israel’s current favorable relationships with nations such as India, Kazakhstan, and Ethiopia all have been facilitated by Netanyahu’s assertive policies.
One factor that has boosted Israel’s international diplomatic standing has been its robust internal technological climate. The old stereotype of the Israeli working in the fields and wearing the kova tembel hat while singing “Zum Gali Gali Gali Zum Gali Gali” has given way to that of a nation of technological “out-of-the-box” thinkers who, in addition to inventing and producing the armaments Israel needs to defend itself against its enemies, innovate new products and services that have revolutionized and continue to revolutionize computing, transportation, communication, commerce, and healthcare. This could not have happened without Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership as a Finance Minister who instituted reforms in Israel’s economy, including but hardly limited to matters of foreign currency exchange, limiting monopolies and fostering competition, and streamlining taxation policy.
Following his stint as Finance Minister and return to the Premiership, Netanyahu continued to shepherd Israel along the path towards the technological mastery that is possible only in a secure and supportive economic environment. He understood that nationwide and international internet connectivity was vital to Israel’s security and well-being, and he understood that natural energy resources beneath the Mediterranean Sea needed to be exploited to Israel’s national advantage.
What may well prove to be Bibi’s saving grace in how history will view him, however, is a convergent culmination of all of the foregoing – Israel’s handling of the COVID virus. Netanyahu understood very early on that the CoronaVirus pandemic needed to be fought with a military mindset (and he likely comprehended that military-mindedness would be all the more appropriate if, as seems increasingly likely with each passing day, the virus was a by-product of Chinese biological weapon development activity). Israel’s military and security organizations all played active roles in Israel’s response to the COVID pandemic. And while Israel most certainly made some significant errors in addressing COVID, the experience has placed Israel far, far ahead of other nations of the world. Lessons learned now posture Israel to better deal with unconventional threats.
There is no denying that Netanyahu’s salutary accomplishments in Israel’s favor often coincided with his personal and political interests, and there are many, myself included, who believe that he gave such personal interests too much priority in his decisions and machinations. Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt before him, Netanyahu had delusions of grandeur and convinced himself that he was the only one capable of leading his country.
But even those of us who are relieved (for the moment, at least) by Benjamin Netanyahu’s departure from the Prime Minister’s Residence cannot ignore the fact that in many ways, Israel is a better and safer place on account of Bibi’s service.