Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in July. (Sraya Diamant)
The disaster that befell Israel on the holiday of Simchat Torah is the clear responsibility of one person: Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister, who has prided himself on his vast political experience and irreplaceable wisdom in security matters, completely failed to identify the dangers he was consciously leading Israel into when establishing a government of annexation and dispossession, when appointing Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir to key positions, while embracing a foreign policy that openly ignored the existence and rights of Palestinians.
Netanyahu will certainly try to evade his responsibility and cast the blame on the heads of the army, Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet security service who, like their predecessors on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, saw a low probability of war with their preparations for a Hamas attack proving flawed.
They scorned the enemy and its offensive military capabilities. Over the next days and weeks, when the depth of Israel Defense Forces and intelligence failures come to light, a justified demand to replace them and take stock will surely arise.
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However, the military and intelligence failure does not absolve Netanyahu of his overall responsibility for the crisis, as he is the ultimate arbiter of Israeli foreign and security affairs. Netanyahu is no novice in this role, like Ehud Olmert was in the Second Lebanon War. Nor is he ignorant in military matters, as Golda Meir in 1973 and Menachem Begin in 1982 claimed to be.
Netanyahu also shaped the policy embraced by the short-lived “government of change” led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid: a multidimensional effort to crush the Palestinian national movement in both its wings, in Gaza and the West Bank, at a price that would seem acceptable to the Israeli public.
In the past, Netanyahu marketed himself as a cautious leader who eschewed wars and multiple casualties on Israel’s side. After his victory in the last election, he replaced this caution with the policy of a “fully-right government,” with overt steps taken to annex the West Bank, to carry out ethnic cleansing in parts of the Oslo-defined Area C, including the Hebron Hills and the Jordan Valley.
This also included a massive expansion of settlements and bolstering of the Jewish presence on Temple Mount, near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as boasts of an impending peace deal with the Saudis in which the Palestinians would get nothing, with open talk of a “second Nakba” in his governing coalition. As expected, signs of an outbreak of hostilities began in the West Bank, where Palestinians started feeling the heavier hand of the Israeli occupier. Hamas exploited the opportunity in order to launch its surprise attack on Saturday.
Above all, the danger looming over Israel in recent years has been fully realized. A prime minister indicted in three corruption cases cannot look after state affairs, as national interests will necessarily be subordinate to extricating him from a possible conviction and jail time.
This was the reason for establishing this horrific coalition and the judicial coup advanced by Netanyahu, and for the enfeeblement of top army and intelligence officers, who were perceived as political opponents. The price was paid by the victims of the invasion in the Western Negev.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.