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The Tale of Two Netanyahus

Yoni Netanyahu. Image via Wikipedia

Today, I could talk about the disastrous war against Hamas. For example, I could talk about how an Israeli airstrike in Rafah may have killed dozens of Gazan civilians in a tent camp. I could even mention how the shooting of a member of Egypt’s Security Forces near the Rafah border could eventually break the more than 40-year long peace between Israel and Egypt. But I won’t. Instead, I want to tell a tale of two Netanyahus. 

Every Israeli schoolkid knows the story of the first Netanyahu. His name was Yonatan Netanyahu, or Yoni for short. He was born on March 13, 1946, a little more than 2 years before the First Arab-Israeli War. During a childhood that often shuttled him between America and the newly independent state of Israel, he clearly developed a deep affection for Israel and a deep desire to fight on her behalf. 

In 1964, he “was drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces where he volunteered to serve in the Paratroopers Brigade.” Later, he was selected for “and excelled in” the Officer Training Course. He fought in the 1967 War, and “reinforced the Golan Heights.” In 1973, he “commanded a Sayeret Matkal force…that killed more than 40 Syrian Commando officers” (emphasis mine). In the same war he “also rescued Lieutenant Colonel Yossi Ben Hanan from Tel Shams,” taking him out from behind Syrian lines. 

“Following the war,” he received the Medal of Distinguished Service, Israel’s third highest military decoration. Even then, he was not through. Taking note of the heavy casualties delivered to the Israeli Armed Corps during the war, he “volunteered to serve as armor commander.” He then “excelled in [the] Tank Officers Course” and took charge of the Barak Armored Brigade, turning that brigade into “the leading military unit in the Golan Heights.” From there, this philosopher-soldier had every reason, every right to rest on his many military accomplishments. 

Yet he did not. On July 4, 1976, the American bicentennial, he advocated strenuously for and led Operation Entebbe, a daring, ambitious, and hitherto unprecedented mission to free 105 Jewish hostages held in the hostile territory of the brutal African dictator Idi Amin. The mission, against all expectations, was a dazzling success. Flying some 2,500 miles from Israel to Uganda, the commandos arrived under the cover of a black Mercedes and two jeeps, a ruse designed to resemble Idi the Butcher’s entourage. 

They subsequently “breached the zone, rescued 102 of the hostages and killed all the terrorists and dozens of Ugandan soldiers.” It was truly the stuff of Hollywood. Except Yoni did not get his Hollywood ending. He was the sole commando casualty. Although perhaps that was the way Yoni would have wanted it. He always took the route of heroism and self-sacrifice. If anything, he may have said, just like Nathan Hale hundreds of years earlier, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” 

My how times have changed. Israeli pride then has given away to Israeli paralysis and bitterness now. As Yossi Melman, a longtime intelligence columnist for Haaretz once said in a (slightly) different context, Israelis “are like zombies wandering around. They [just] don’t know what to do.” 

Which brings me to the story of the second Netanyahu. Like the first Netanyahu, his rise too began with the Israeli military. In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu would have been one of the commandos at Entebbe, if not for the presence of his brother there.  Sadly, that is where the similarities end. The second Netanyahu soon entered the realm of politics. A career politician, if you will. He became a political insider masquerading as an outsider. He was a figure who commanded support but not respect. He was a person that nobody liked, knew, understood, or trusted. In spite of all that, he stuck around. Like a wart on the Israeli body politic. 

In 2023, however, this Netanyahu proved he was so much worse than that. Let me be clear about this: October 7th was preventable. If Netanyahu had not tried to jam through his unpopular judicial reforms, October 7 would not have happened. If Netanyahu had taken heed of prior warnings of just such a Hamas attack, October 7 would not have happened. No matter how much Sinwar wanted it to. 

Because of his selfishness and incompetence, 1,200 Israelis and counting have paid the price for his mistakes. It is a legacy of catastrophic failures unbecoming of the brother of Yoni. Under one Netanyahu, Israel rescued more than a hundred hostages. Under the other, Israel will be lucky if it gets out one more in a bodybag. 

Under the leadership of one Netanyahu, Israel experienced one of its greatest triumphs. Under the leadership of the other, Israel experienced one of its greatest humiliations. One Netanyahu will go down as a hero. The other will go down in infamy. 

A sad series of ironies. To add to a whole list full of sad ironies.   

One Netanyahu represents the best of Israel, the other represents the worst. One has saved life, the other has squandered it. One was the deliverer of the people of Zion, the other is the aimless “Butcher of Gaza.” One successfully executed a bold rescue operation, the other has vowed to the end to pursue a war without a strategy. One has brought victory to the Israeli people, the other can only bring the most decisive of defeats. 

End this madness now. Get rid of the current Netanyahu “with all deliberate speed.” Does this Netanyahu think that early elections are “divisive?” Fine. Skip the elections. Pressure the members of the Likud Party and the Knesset at large to support a constructive vote of no-confidence against Netanyahu and for his only viable alternative, Benny Gantz. Otherwise, assure the Likud Party that they will face significant losses come next election season.

As Bibi once said in an address commemorating the Entebbe raid, “I learned from my brother that you need two things to defeat the terrorists: clarity and courage.” This Netanyahu, unfortunately, has neither.

About the Author
David Salzillo Jr. is a recent graduate from Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
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