Martin Sherman

Into the fray: Yair Lapid -Thinking the unthinkable

When the official reasons given for the Oct. 2022 gas deal with Lebanon unravel, who can be blamed for allowing “heretical” alternative explanations to creep into one’s mind

We will divide up the region. Israel will return most of the West Bank, and the Palestinian flag will fly on public buildings in East Jerusalem – Yair Lapid, Der Spiegel, May 8, 2008.  

Jerusalem is not a place; it is the constitutive concept of Israeli identity and our most fundamental ethos…We will not divide Jerusalem. No matter what happens. If that eventually means that there will be no resolution [of the conflict] then there will be no resolution – Yair Lapid, Walla, December 27, 2014.

This week, the leader of Israel’s opposition, Yair Lapid, appeared in the Jerusalem District Court as a prosecution witness in the trial of his primary political adversary, incumbent Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. As before with a string of previous prosecution witnesses, his testimony ended up strengthening the case for the defense rather than for the prosecution.

Opinions as tools to fulfill ambitions

But beyond that, his performance on the stand underscored just how little credibility the man has, and how little store can be placed on anything he says. Indeed, it would be difficult to find any topic on which Lapid has expressed an opinion that, elsewhere, he has not expressed a diametrically opposite one. (For example, see the introductory citations regarding his position on Jerusalem).

No less striking is Lapid’s breathtaking about-face on judicial reform. Whereas today he is a vociferous opponent of the changes in Israel’s legal system proposed by the current coalition, just a few years earlier, he endorsed the very same measures he now purports to reject as imperiling Israeli democracy.

Indeed, a cursory Google search will reveal similarly dramatic U-turns on the 2005 Disengagement and on the Golan Heights.

Unavoidably, this compels us to the conclusion that Lapid does not have an opinion on anything. All he has, it seems, is an ambition and opinions are merely tools for fulfilling that ambition—and can be changed at will, depending on transient needs required to further that ambition.

Rushed and rash

This lamentable conclusion cannot but make scrutiny of his conduct, during his fleeting term as prime minister, necessary.

The decision that calls out most for review is the rushed and rash agreement in October 2022, for adjustments to Israel’s northern maritime border. This entailed the transfer of large portions of potentially rich marine gas resources to Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, earmarked for development by a French concern, Total S.A.

This was a move that defies logic both in terms of its purported rationale and its precipitous execution.

The ostensible justification for entering into the agreements was to persuade Hezbollah to refrain from attacking a nearby functioning Israeli oil rig—for all intents and purposes, surrender to extortion by the Islamist terrorist organization, which had threatened to hit the Israeli drilling site, if concessions were not made.

The agreement was heralded by shamelessly hyperbolic fanfare, being dubbed as “historic” by Lapid himself.

Of course, bowing to extortion is a notoriously shortsighted policy; and sure enough, the rationale for the accords (read “Israeli concessions”) soon began to unravel. In May 2023, both the IDF chief of staff and the head of military intelligence warned of a real danger of war with Hezbollah, which—despite concession—was already engaged in ominous saber rattling.

Subordinating professional integrity to political allegiance

This is particularly troubling given the warm endorsement of the October 2022 agreements by former and serving senior officials in Israel’s security establishment.

Indeed, given the prevailing realities in Lebanon, their support seems to reflect an almost child-like naivete regarding both its prospective durability and the potential for future expansion of its terms. Indeed, the backing of the patently flawed pact, which—if nothing else—was a unmistakable feather in Hezbollah’s gory cap—is strongly reminiscent of the endorsement that senior echelons of the US intelligence community provided for the wildly mendacious claim that Hunter Biden’s incriminating laptop was “Russian disinformation”. Sadly, it appears that both in the US and Israel, it is not rare to find senior security personnel—past and present—who are prepared to subordinate their professional integrity to political allegiances.

Indeed, it was particularly risible, especially in light of the gravity of later unfolding realities, to read of the hyped-up praise for the agreement from Orna Mizrahi, former Deputy National Security Adviser, and currently a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). According to her: “…this is…a very important agreement. It even raises hopes that there could be real change in the relationship between the two countries.

Yeah, right! I guess she must have missed the fact that Hezbollah is not party to the deal—and that the government of Lebanon refused to sign a pact directly with Israel, instead agreeing only to give a commitment to the US.

Untoward haste

Not only is the lavish praise from senior security experts for the contorted October 2022 agreement both puzzling and perturbing, but so is the untoward haste with which it was pushed through. The professed justification for the unbecoming rush was the claim that the term of then-Lebanese President Michel Auon (who, as mentioned, refrained from signing directly with Israel) was about to end and there was uncertainty about who would replace him. Interestingly, up until the writing of this piece, Auon has not yet been replaced, mainly due to obstruction by Hezbollah. Apart from the fact that it borders on the absurd to believe that any Hezbollah-approved president would feel bound by a document signed by his predecessor, the heavy-handed manner in which the Lapid interim government pushed the agreement through in the final days of its term, is another disturbing aspect of the deal.

Riding roughshod over previously time-honored democratic norms and conventions, Lapid –with the collusion of his domesticated Attorney General, Gali Baharav-Miara—blatantly ignored the Knesset, arguing that, in light of what he considered its “wanton behavior“, it should not be consulted on the agreement—implying that for Lapid, only pliable and acquiescent parliaments merit his attention.

This brazen dismissal of the institutions of democracy was so stark that it prompted one of his ministers to express her discomfort. Underscoring the painfully self-evident, she confronted Lapid: “You describe the agreement as an historic agreement. If it is historic you are obligated to present it for the approval of the sovereign—the Knesset.” Pointedly, she asked: “What are you afraid of?”

What indeed!!

Is Israeli patriotism dead?

Given the refuted rationale for the agreement and the disproven arguments for the undemocratic haste for rushing the agreement, thorny questions are unavoidable.

In a time in which declarations once deemed well beyond the pale and deeds once considered inconceivable are becoming increasingly commonplace, nothing can be discounted as beyond the realm of reason. When former prime ministers, defense ministers, and chiefs-of-staff openly call for violent civil insurrection and for tax rebellion, when prominent public figures urge foreign governments to shun members of a democratically-elected coalition; when calls for desertion, are not only not condemned, but condoned—even commended—because of patently contrived grievances, fueled by personal and/or political malice, past assumptions and old taboos can no longer be considered valid. What once was thought outrageous, may no longer be so—even the demise of the patriotism of Israeli elites.

With this in mind, how are we to account for the October 2022 gas deal with Lebanon—given the highly unpersuasive official explanations for both the substance of the agreement and for how it was concluded?

In this regard, it is intriguing to note that Lapid and French President, Emmanuel Macron, have a long ongoing friendship, dating back to before either were heads of government in their respective countries. Lapid, in a highly unusual step, endorsed Macron’s 2017 presidential bid, and in return, Macron endeavored to help Lapid in the 2019 elections in Israel, with a high-profile meeting just days before the polls. Add to this that the giant French energy concern, Total S.A., 50%-owned by the French government, is due to have a major stake in the gas fields following the agreement, and it is difficult not to let “heretical” thoughts creep into one’s mind.

Thinking the unthinkable

After all, wouldn’t an alternative explanation for the “anomalous” gas deal be a personal bonanza for those who pushed so hard to rush it through? Indeed, how can a reasonable observer refrain from thinking the unthinkable…and from wondering just how much Lapid and his cronies were paid for it.

Dr. Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

About the Author
Dr. Martin Sherman is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies a member of the research team of the Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF)-Habithonistim, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project. . He served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli Defense establishment, and was a ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir's government. Sherman also lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations and Strategic Studies. He holds several university degrees: a B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), an MBA (Finance), and a PhD in political science and international relations. He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and is the author of two books, as well as numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. Sherman was born in South Africa and has lived in Israel since 1971.
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