Monday, February 02, 2009


The Israeli Election

On today’s front page of the Washington Post, Griff Witte attempts to give an overview of the dynamics of Israeli politics a week before elections there: Israel's Key Election Issue: Did War End Too Soon?

Now, Soccer Dad has already written an extensive and typically informative review of this article but there is always room for more in a Griff Witte piece. For starters, I love the semantics he sometimes employs:

“The war, initiated to stop Hamas rocket fire that has persisted for years, was viewed by many here as motivated at least in part by electoral politics.”

Yeah…and Poland initiated WWII to stop Germany. The firing of rockets into a country is generally regarded as an act of war. That Israel may have been slow to react doesn’t mean this reaction wasn’t timely to the Hamas provocation.

“The operation in Gaza drew condemnation abroad for the high Palestinian death toll, and praise at home for the relatively low number of Israelis killed.”

The operation in Gaza would have drawn condemnation from abroad had it just been about delivering Matzah Balls (i.e. cultural imperialism) and I believe it was the perception that Israel was actually kicking some a** that inspired the praise at home.

I write that because of this observation from Mr. Witte:

“In recent days, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who according to polls appears poised to reclaim his old job, has argued in speeches and interviews that his political rivals ended the war prematurely.”

Extending the fight inevitably leads to a higher death toll so ending the war is a good way to keep the number of Israelis killed “relatively low”. But if the polls are to be believed that won’t prove to be a winning strategy on Election Day.

“The argument reflects the reality that elections here often turn on a single question: Who looks tougher on national security?”

Well, if that’s true, then Mr. Netanyahu should have spent much of the last two decades as Prime Minister. From my vantage point, he has long been the toughest major party guy on national security. (I really don’t know much about his politics beyond what I’ve seen from him on TV and on TV nobody is asking him his position on retirement plans.) The problem is that elections in Israel (and here) don’t turn enough on that single question.

I very much remember Mr. Netanyahu’s constant presence on American TV as Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister during the first Gulf War. A key component of Iraq’s war plan was broadcast to be flinging scud missiles at Israel and hoping for an Israeli reaction. He was an impressive voice of calm and competence and I think convinced many that Israel was going to be mindful of the bigger picture during the conflict and react only to the extent necessary. Israel didn’t take the bait (although they would have been well within their rights to also pummel Saddam’s forces) and the coalition held.

That coalition was a well-coordinated one that thoroughly beat the crap out of the ironically described Iraqi “Elite” Republican Guard. But you seek a UN Resolution; you’re stuck with complying with that UN Resolution. The coalition was only tasked with getting Iraq out of Kuwait. So, we stopped well short of what we could have accomplished and, as the subsequent years proved out, should have accomplished.

I think Mr. Netanyahu remembers that lesson all too well. Good luck to him next week.

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