Rarely does a speech made by a political leader so move Israelis, who learned the hard way to take what our politicians say with a grain of salt. But Netanyahu’s short televised address last night was an exceptional spectacle. It wasn’t so much the content as it was the presentation. The weary, red-eyed premier came across as pouring his heart out in a last-ditch effort to keep his coalition from breaking down.
Netanyahu approached the podium without ado and started his nine-minute speech, addressed to the citizens of Israel, with a retelling of his army experience, his fallen comrades and his hero brother, Yoni. “I risked my own life time and again,” he said, “to make sure our lives here in the Land of Israel are secure.” He went on stress that when Israel’s security is at stake, there is no place for self-interest.
As for the way he handled the latest round of fighting with Hamas, which came under heavy criticism from his own constituency, Netanyahu reassured the citizens of Israel that he knows what he is doing, and that, though he understands the frustration and confusion that followed the ceasefire, we, the citizens, don’t know the full picture, which for security reasons can’t be disclosed.
“You see only a partial picture of a widescale campaign we are still in its midst of, one that I am committed to complete … I am not going to say here tonight when we are going to act or how we’re going to act … but we will act,” Netanyahu reassured, explaining that things are not always clear as they happen, but that all would become clear once the plan had come to fruition.
“We will overcome our enemies … but I tell you ahead of time, it will come at a great price,” the prime minister continued. He then said to the heads of the parties making up his coalition: “At such a time, you don’t overthrow a government. At such a time, you don’t opt for elections. To do so would be to eschew responsibility.” Netanyahu didn’t expound, but his words alluded to an all-out war in the near future. He simply asked the citizens of Israel to be patient, and called upon the coalition leaders to leave their egos at the door and work together for the good of Israel. Netanyahu then left the room without any further remarks.
The speech came just days after the resignation of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, which left the coalition with a slim 61-seat majority in the Knesset.
Liberman’s departure from the government was followed by an ultimatum by Jewish Home party chief and current Minister of Education Naftali Bennett that he be appointed as the next Defense Minister. Bennett’s ultimatum was seen by almost all political analysts, experts and commentators as the death knell of the current government, especially after Jewish Home called a surprise press conference after being rebuffed by Netanyahu. Everyone was certain that Bennett and his #2, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, would be following Liberman in abandoning Netanyahu and putting his coalition in the minority.
This morning, however, Bennett and Shaked announced that they accept Netanyahu’s challenge, and will remain in the government with no conditions, save one–that Netanyahu keep his promise to steer the army and his security policy in a different direction. “I suppose I will pay a political price,” said Bennett, “but it’s better if the prime minister beats us in a political battle than if [Hamas chief Ismail] Haniyeh beats us.”
Bennett criticized Netanyahu for indecisiveness and lack of fighting spirit. He also said that “our soldiers fear the IDF’s attorney general more than Yahyah Sinwar [the Hamas military leader],” thus alluding to what many see as the IDF’s lack of will to win wars, and its concern for legal issues, that come at the expense of efficient and professionally-executed military missions.
Bennett’s “capitulation” has only deepened the mystery regarding the great campaign Israel now faces, and Israelis remain puzzled as to what’s going to happen in the near future.