With unbridled attack on security chiefs, Netanyahu shows he’s at point of no return


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was irritable and irritable. After a long weekend spent with the family, and the pleasant views of the Villa Borghese garden afforded by his luxury suite in Rome the previous weekend, he started the weekly Sunday cabinet meeting in a relaxed manner.

His hands shaking and his face angry, Netanyahu represented the threat to Israel from protesters (“anarchists”) against the judicial overhaul that his government is promoting to the danger of Palestinian terrorism and with Iran’s nuclear program. Then he became an unprecedented leader of almost every branch of Israel’s defense establishment.

“I expect the commissioner and the police to uphold the law and prevent violence and blocking roads,” he said, chastising Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai for a response that by the force, which is thought to be scarce, on protests across the country against the reform.

Then Netanyahu thundered at Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara: “I expect that Shin Bet and the State Attorney’s Office will act with determination against those who initiate the murder of the ministers and Knesset members, and the assassination of the Attorney General. minister and his family, without looking the other way, without cutting corners or cutting slabs.

“I expect the chief of staff and the heads of the security services to fight hard against refusal to serve,” he continued, blacklisting Herzi Halevi, the IDF chief he did not want to appoint.

When Netanyahu says he is “expecting” something, the implication is that the people charged with keeping this country safe are not doing what he wants. That the police chief is too soft on the demonstrators and did not prevent them from blocking roads. That the Shin Bet and the State Attorney’s Office are not arresting people who incite the Netanyahu family and members of his cabinet. And that the chief of staff of the IDF has not come out against members of the army who are refusing to serve in protest against the reform.

Police Chief Kobi Shabtai speaks with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi (left) at Police headquarters in Jerusalem on January 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The subtext is clear: He believes the IDF chief of staff, the police commissioner, the head of Shin Bet and the attorney general support the protests. Days after President Isaac Herzog was accused of aligning himself with left-wing protesters by publishing an alternative proposal that would “perpetuate the status quo,” Netanyahu has not been shy about lobbing similar accusations at leaders of the defense establishment (except the head of Mossad, at least for the time being).

The rationale for the attack on Herzog, just minutes after the latter announced his alternative proposal last week, was transparent. Netanyahu lumped him in with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Labour’s Merav Michaeli, telegraphing to right-wingers still undecided about the overhaul that they can’t trust anyone – not even traditional office impartiality of the president.

The whole world is against us, he said. It’s time to return home, to the hot back of Netanyahu’s judicial reform.

As harsh as his tone was, Netanyahu’s warning to security chiefs lacked substance. If the prime minister had seriously tried to influence the actions of the army, police and Shin Bet leaders, he would have summoned them to his office, one by one, to air his reservations about their behavior let them know, and send them out clearly. directions for the future.

That’s how things are generally done, and it’s far more effective than public, political upbraiding that only further erodes Israel’s trust in its democratic institutions.

President Isaac Herzog attends an Honorary Citizenship Ceremony in Tel Aviv, March 13, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Netanyahu is certainly concerned about the warning of former heads of the military, police and security services against the reform in its current form. Perhaps he has convinced himself that their successors are of the same mind.

Halevi, Barra and Shabtai were probably angry at Netanyahu’s display of anger, but the prime minister no longer cares. He lives on the edge, surrounded by people who hate the judgment more than he does – despite the ongoing trial against him. They are all out for revenge; maybe Netanyahu is as well.

Those who know the prime minister well say that he likes to drag conflicts to the precipice, only to step back afterwards, as he did in the infamous incident of the metal detectors on the Temple Mount in 2017.

There were those who hoped that such a compromise would come together on Sunday night of the leaders of the coalition governments and that the composition of the Committee for Judicial Selection would be reviewed in a sensible way. But in practice – although Constitution Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman presented a tweaked proposal on Sunday, an impressive smokescreen of words and numbers – the coalition is pushing ahead with plans to control the selection of Supreme Court judges for the prime minister.

Netanyahu’s experts were not optimistic on Monday morning. “He is no longer acting independently,” one former longtime aide told The Times of Israel. “He is surrounded by a conclave of ruthless managers who will not give an inch.”

This piece first appeared on The Times of Israel’s Hebrew site, Zman Yisrael.

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