Bibi’s re­straint wins him friends abroad — and en­e­mies at home

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER

ONE DE­SCRIP­TION you don’t usu­ally hear of Is­rael’s Prime Min­is­ter, Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, is “risk-averse”. But in re­cent days, in the Is­raeli me­dia and the up­per ech­e­lons of the de­fence es­tab­lish­ment, in Knes­set cor­ri­dors and even among for­eign diplo­mats who rarely have a good word to say about Bibi, this la­bel has been reg­u­larly at­tached to him.

The rea­son? He has — as of go­ing to press — re­sisted pres­sure to launch a ground of­fen­sive.

While the rock­ets are still be­ing launched against Is­rael, it is dif­fi­cult for a prime min­is­ter to hold out against three-pronged pres­sure from the mil­i­tary, the coali­tion and pub­lic opin­ion. But that is what Mr Ne­tanyahu has done.

The IDF has been given the author­ity to call up to 40,000 re­serve troops, and bri­gade com­bat teams have been de­ployed with full com­ple­ments of tanks and ar­moured ve­hi­cles — but the or­der to go in has not come.

Dur­ing the three short years of Ehud Olmert’s pre­mier­ship, Is­rael em­barked on two ma­jor ground of­fen­sives — in Le­banon and Gaza.

Mr Ne­tanyahu has been prime min­is­ter now for five-and-a-half years (and three years in his pre­vi­ous term in the 1990s) but has al­ways cho­sen to use air-strikes and small spe­cial-forces raids rather than risk launch­ing large ground for­ma­tions. This re­luc­tance led him to end the Novem­ber 2012 oper­a­tion in Gaza with­out a ground of­fen­sive.

Sur­veys in­di­cate that a ma­jor­ity of the Is­raeli pub­lic is in favour of en­ter­ing Gaza now and For­eign Min­is­ter Avig­dor Lieber­man has been loudly call­ing for a ground of­fen­sive.

Mr Ne­tanyahu could sack his for­eign min­is­ter but with­out Mr Lieber- man’s Yis­rael Beit­einu he will not have a coali­tion.

By con­trast, when Deputy De­fence Min­is­ter Danny Danon on Mon­day de­scribed the govern­ment’s will­ing­ness to reach a cease­fire with Ha­mas as “a slap in the face to all Is­raeli cit­i­zens”, he was sum­mar­ily fired.

“Ne­tanyahu is gain­ing points now for his in­ac­tion” said one se­nior diplo­mat in Jerusalem. “We hope he won’t ex­ac­er­bate the sit­u­a­tion by send­ing in ground troops. If only he wasn’t so in­ac­tive when it came to the peace process.”

At a rare press con­fer­ence last Fri­day, Mr Ne­tanyahu said that Is­rael has to make sure it does not “have an­other Gaza in Judea and Sa­maria” and that un­der no cir­cum­stance and un­der no diplo­matic agree­ment can Is­rael “re­lin­quish se­cu­rity con­trol of the ter­ri­tory west of the Jordan river”. Last month, he made clear that any fu­ture Pales­tinian state would not have se­cu­rity con­trol over its ter­ri­tory. That is a dif­fer­ent kind of risk — one that the Is­raeli prime min­is­ter is un­will­ing to take.

PHOTO: AP

Ne­tanyahu: cau­tious but firm

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