Israel throws the switch to security

Israel’s rather leisurely process of forming a new government following last week’s election continues. President Shimon Peres is yet to officially commission a new prime minister, but there is no doubt that it will be incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu, and no doubt that he will succeed in putting together a coalition that can command a parliamentary majority.

The precise shape of that coalition remains uncertain. Netanyahu suffered a setback when he named his disgraced former chief of staff, Natan Eshel, as chief negotiator for the coalition talks. Eshel was forced to resign last year after confessing to sexual harassment; Yesh Atid, the runner-up in the elections and the main party that Netanyahu wants to draw into his tent, promptly refused to take part in talks as long as Eshel was involved.

But after an election campaign in which peace and security issues were curiously absent from most of the debate, Netanyahu has dramatically returned them to the front page with an air strike in Syria on Wednesday. The Syrian government claims that the target was a military research centre, but most other reports say it was actually a convoy of weapons bound for Lebanon – specifically anti-aircraft missiles being sent to Syria’s ally Hezbollah.

Juan Cole explains that the Syrian government would be mostly concerned about keeping such weapons out of the hands of its opponents (the Syrian opposition seems to have got most of its arms from raiding government bases). From that point of view, having Israel destroy them is almost as good as sending them to Lebanon.

Israel, however, holds no brief for either side in the Syrian civil war, but would want to prevent any advanced weaponry ending up with Hezbollah – despite the fact that anti-aircraft missiles are fundamentally defensive weapons.

Whether or not the timing was coincidental, it suits Netanyahu for Israel’s politicians to have their heads turned towards security issues. The issues on which he is most likely to have trouble with potential centrist partners – some combination of Yesh Atid, Labor, Hatnuah and Kadima – are domestic ones, mainly economic and religious policy.

Conversely, what keeps them together, and what will stop the centrists even making an effort to somehow lock out Netanyahu, is their common inability to actually make a stand in favor of serious peace moves: their unwillingness to confront the settlers and extremists who prevent Israel from attempting the task of reconciliation with the Palestinians. That unwillingness was symbolised by Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, vowing that he would never join any sort of alliance with the Arab parties.

Bombing Syria, like demonising Iran or beating up on the UN, is a way for Netanyahu to remind them of that fact and tell them to pull their heads in and come on board with the new government. We’ll soon know how successful he’s been.

2 thoughts on “Israel throws the switch to security

  1. Given the sensible conclusion in this article I don’t know why Richardson would say on his way to it that “Israel, however, holds no brief for either side in the Syrian civil war…” Of course it does. Israel’s strategic objective is to destroy anything and everything that looks like stable government on its borders. Only such stable governments are capable of mounting effective opposition to its long term expansionist aims. That is why it had to destroy Lebanon, and Iraq and why it seeks to destroy Egypt, Syria and Iran.

    The tolerance of the Syrian and Iranian (and in earlier decades) the Lebanese regimes for religious minorities is also something which Zionist Israel knows makes for uncomfortable international comparisons compared with its fanatical racist segregation and intolerance, which is of a level to make the former white South African regime blush.


  2. I didn’t mean to say Israel has no interest in the Syrian conflict: it definitely has an interest in keeping Syria weak but also relatively stable. My point was that I don’t think this inclines it particularly either way between the government and the opposition. At the beginning it seemed more an Assad partisan, now it may be leaning towards the opposition, but I think Netanyahu will be quite happy if they decimate each other.


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