In the ongoing war with Hamas, and after two weeks of conflict, Israel still finds itself in turmoil and danger. Despite hundreds of Israeli air force sorties, Hamas continues to launch missiles on our (civilian) cities with apparent impunity. The extent of their military resources is uncertain, but they seem prepared for a long-lasting struggle. Should Israel enter Gaza to eliminate Hamas, experts predict a complex and prolonged battle with potential casualties and high costs. A ground entry move will also invariably lead to criticism, even from our allies. Disruptive evacuations are underway in the Israeli communities near Gaza and the city of Ashkelon, with a population of over 130,000.
In northern Israel, the situation is also precarious with 40 communities evacuated, including Kiriat Simona with a population of over 22,000. Hezbollah is a formidable adversary with decades of preparation and fortification. They are estimated to have around 25,000 full-time fighters and 20,000 – 30,000 reservists along with 40,000 -150,000 missiles. From these numbers it is obvious that a full-scale war with Hezbollah would likely pose even greater military challenges than the conflict with Hamas. Handling two fronts would be a demanding, protracted, costly endeavor in terms of casualties, expense, and disruption to daily life in adjacent communities.
Due to reservists’ call-up and ongoing conflict, many workplaces have closed or reduced their hours, negatively impacting the economy. This will lead to an unpreventable downturn, as government revenues decline and expenses rise. Economic sustainability and stability are at risk.
The government, so far, has not provided adequate alternative services; it is mostly volunteer groups that do. While their prewar function fell short, since the war, the current government is even more dysfunctional. Finance Minister Smotrich’s plan of funding Gaza evacuees by increasing the national debt without cutting other spending is fiscally irresponsible, given future untold enormous impending expenses. He’s a political appointee, untrained, inexperienced, and ideologically biased. He tried to divert funds illegally to the Settlers before the war and lacked factual accuracy when presenting Israel’s declining true financial situation to the country. Government finance discussions are absent despite our financial entanglements. In a similar vein of dysfunction, foreign policy is absent, and the foreign minister’s presence is not felt. Failing to strengthen ties with allies and garner support from unaffiliated countries will worsen our isolation especially as criticism of Israel’s response dominates the media. A defamation momentum against Israel is already in full force. In yet another example of ineptitude, despite the use of vast reinforcements, security in the West Bank is at its lowest ebb in years, deteriorating, straining resources, and demonstrating ministerial failure. The stakes are high as any West Bank violence escalation will only worsen our financial and military manpower limitations and open another front.
The government’s stance on Israeli Arabs, constituting 21% of the population, is unclear. Are they considered allies or a fifth column?
It is evident in their ineffective performance across ministries since the war started, that the government lacks a clear policy and capacity for handling the current challenges. Calls by the public for apologies from ministers for the present fiasco may be valid but the fundamental issue now is their inability to perform their duties effectively. While volunteers and volunteer groups are temporarily bridging the gaps, relying on them is not a long-term solution.
If hostilities with Hamas persist for months, along with ongoing threats or even all-out war with Hezbollah, simmering tensions in the West Bank, and a strained economy due to reservists being called up, the obvious conclusion to draw is that our long-term outlook is strategically dire.
Progress is unlikely with a government that has lost the trust of 50% or more of the population, is dominated by inflexible political ideologues, and prioritizes political and self-interest issues over the common good.
An alternative to the present government at this juncture is problematic. If the government resigns, we’d then have a weak transition government incapable of making crucial decisions. A subsequent election could result in a stalemate due to a divided country. Alternatively, a small majority result on either side may leave the losing side feeling unrepresented, which is akin to our current undesired situation. Therefore, a government resignation with subsequent elections could dangerously further impair short term government function.
Just as recognizing the inadequacy of the existing military leadership led to the formation of an emergency military cabinet on October 12 to address war related decisions, we now need to consider the appointment of an all-star government committee-cabinet, chosen for competence rather than ideology or party allegiance, to replace the current government.
How can we bring about this change? Given its national importance, this daunting task should be assigned to our president. President Herzog should oversee the formation of an appointed interim cabinet and along with judiciary consultation, define its structure and responsibilities. Current coalition ministers can be part of the committee, but they shouldn’t hold a majority. After forming the cabinet, the current government should voluntarily resign. Regarding Prime Minister Netanyahu, the responsible step is for him to also resign voluntarily. His voluntary resignation is essential as this process is not meant to be a putsch. The committee can then appoint an interim prime minister. While other Likud members can be part of the committee, Netanyahu should not join the transition government. He has lost the people’s support, even on the Right. The interim government would then take over until a set election date.
The selection of members for this emergency Israeli government would prioritize expertise over political affiliations. Committee members should be chosen based on their qualifications, experience, and reputation. The all-star government should consist of the best political and non-political professionals. The committee would strive to unite the people rather than be divisive. This (relatively) non-political governing committee should be empowered to make difficult decisions necessary at this critical time.
It is already clear that priorities will have to shift to cope more effectively in lieu of the war. The economy must be highly productive to boost revenue and reduce expenses. We can’t afford to fund those who choose not to work nor divert funds for purposes not essential for the country’s basic function.
It would be the committee’s responsibility to decide, but here are some potential suggestions for the emergency government composition to illustrate the advantage of having a larger base upon which to draw candidates: Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s personality, integrity, fluency in English, and cooperative nature make him a strong foreign minister candidate. Omar Bar Lev, a former successful Minister of Internal Security, can be reappointed to this position. He is more competent and experienced and unlike the current minister, Ben Gvir, Bar Lev is not provocative or incendiary. Aside from politicians, candidates from business, academia, or the military could also be considered.
If this solution is rejected, and the current coalition clings to power, they will face the consequences and public backlash as the situation worsens, which it likely will. History will invariably judge them harshly. We run the risk repeating a self-destructive path, similar to the time of the Temple and the Jewish-Roman conflict, where unity and non-extremism could have changed the outcome preventing a 2,000 year expulsion of most of the community.
There is a modern precedent for this recommended change: A non-elected interim government was used effectively in Italy during its sovereign debt crisis. After Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation on November 12, 2011, President Napolitano appointed academic economist Mario Monti as Prime Minister. Monti led a technocratic government of unelected professionals for 18 months until the 2013 elections. Under his leadership, Italy made a significant turnaround and averted disaster. Israel could choose to form an interim government committee composed of technocrats, politicians from all sides of the political spectrum, or a combination of the two.
Our unpreparedness against the Hamas assault represents both a military and government colossal failure. The current government, including the prime minister, lacks both the skills and public support to navigate the country through this maelstrom. Similar to the formation of an emergency military cabinet formed with quality individuals from outside the ruling parties to deal with the military implications of the war, there is a compelling case for establishing an emergency interim government to deal with the war’s political ramifications. Addressing our internal issues concurrently with countering external adversaries will be essential for our success and victory.