Opinion: ‘Hatred of Netanyahu’ binds new Blue & White party

Even a quick glance at the composition of the Gantz-Lapid union reveals it to be a highly anomalous—the less charitable might say ‘perverse’ — political entity.

By Martin Sherman

The purported electoral appeal of the Blue & White line-up is that it includes three former IDF Chiefs-of-Staff. Yet virtually invariably when top military figures have departed from their field of expertise (security) and ventured into one where they have none (politics), they have been disastrously wrong.

“The greatest tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that everyone knows how it will end. We will divide up the region. Israel will return most of the Judea and Samaria, and the Palestinian flag will fly on public buildings in east Jerusalem… The only unanswered question is: How many more people will have to die along the way? And so we will fight against the extremists on both sides, including our extremists, the settlers.” (Yair Lapid, Der Spiegel, May 8, 2008)

“We should not be disheartened by Assad. Israel has a strategic interest in disassociating Syria from the extremist axis that Iran is leading. Syria is not lost, Assad is Western educated and is not a religious man. He can still join a moderate grouping. – Lt-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, said IDF Chief of Staff (Haaretz, Nov. 13, 2009), the latest recruit for the Gantz-Lapid “Blue & White” front.

“We should not be disheartened by Assad…Israel has a strategic interest in disassociating Syria from the extremist axis that Iran is leading. Syria is not lost, Assad is western educated and is not a religious man. He can still join a moderate grouping.” – Lt-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff, the latest recruit for the Gantz-Lapid “Blue & White” front, Haaretz, Nov. 13, 2009

“The fact that Gantz feels he needs to join up with Lapid in order to ‘beat’ Netanyahu shows that neither one of them holds a candle to Netanyahu. If you can’t beat Netanyahu on your own, just go home.

You can’t just add poll numbers from two parties….this [is a]n admission that Gantz is not confident enough alone to beat Netanyahu… If Gantz can’t face Netanyahu in an election, how will he face the world in diplomacy and Israel’s enemies? –A talkback response to the news of the Gantz-Lapid union, Feb. 21, 2019

On Thursday morning (Feb. 21, 2019), Israel awoke to sensational breaking political news—Benny Gantz’s Israeli Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid parties will run as a united faction, under the name of “Blue & White”.

‘Blue & White’: A peculiar political party

Likewise, it was announced that a third former IDF Chief of Staff, Gabi Askenazi, will join Moshe (Bogey) Yaalon and Gantz himself, in the ranks of the newly formed political alliance.

Even a quick glance at the composition of the Gantz-Lapid union reveals it to be a highly anomalous—the less charitable might say “perverse” — political entity.

For rather than being a body that coalesced around some ideo-intellectual credo or some consensus—however remote—on some socio-political or strategic agenda, it would appear that the centripetal forces that brought Blue & White’s disparate components together comprised little more than an anti-Netanyahu sentiment: Some bear him a grudge because of a past affront they felt he had inflicted on them; others appear to harbor an aversion to him, on a personal basis rather than due to any substantive disagreement over policy.

Thus, within the same political framework, we find a Labor Union leader alongside a champion of free market competition; hardline hawks as well as left-leaning doves.

Accordingly, it is not easy to envisage great cohesion and sense of purpose in the party ranks regarding multiple issues that are bound to arise after the elections–whether in the security, diplomatic or socio-economic spheres—and whether the Blue & Whites find themselves in government or opposition.

Comparing combat experience: Netanyahu vs. Lapid

With the establishment of the united Gantz-Lapid front, it was also announced that, should the party head the governing coalition, the premiership will be rotated between Gantz (until Nov. 2021) and Lapid thereafter.

In this regard, Gantz may well come to rue his recent—and rather incongruous—attack on Netanyahu’s military record.

After all, Netanyahu served in one of the IDF’s most illustrious special units, the famed Sayeret Matkal, taking part in many daring operations behind enemy lines—even being wounded himself. Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu’s comrades-in-arms, like Avi Dichter, former head of internal security, Shin Bet, who served with Netanyahu in the unit, came his defense, robustly rebuffing Gantz’s inappropriate attempt to malign the Prime Minister.

But perhaps more to the point, given Gantz’s ill-advised derision of Netanyahu’s rich combat history, he has left his appointed successor, Lapid, wide open to far more pertinent censure.

After all, despite being physically fit enough to engage in regular martial arts training, he elected to avoid service in a combat unit, choosing to “share the burden” of military service as a reporter for the IDF journal, “Bamahne”– hardly the most arduous or hazardous “tour of duty”– which laid the foundation, at the taxpayers’ expense, for his subsequent successful journalistic career.

Accordingly, Lapid’s personal history clearly undercuts his moral authority and imparts a rather hollow – some might say, hypocritical – ring to his shrill and ongoing castigation of Haredi avoidance of “sharing the burden”—which has often been his rallying call since entering politics in 2013.

Moreover, in the context of Blue & White’s electoral endeavor, it would make the party’s co-candidate for the post of prime minister totally devoid of any experience in military and security matters—and far more vulnerable to the kind of criticism Gantz leveled at Netanyahu.

Complete lack of credibility

However, the equitable sharing of the burden of military service is not the only issue on which Lapid has revealed his total lack of credibility.

For example, consider his diametrically contradictory public positions on Jerusalem. Thus, just prior to his entering politics—while trying to shape his political image and generate a strong left-wing following, he expressed categorical support for dividing Jerusalem, predicting approvingly  that “the Palestinian flag will fly on public buildings in east Jerusalem.” (Der Spiegel, May 8, 2008)

However, after entering politics, Lapid found this perspective to be an electoral liability and made strenuous efforts to downplay his left-wing credential.

Suddenly, his views on Jerusalem underwent a hawkish metamorphosis–with its indivisible unity becoming more important than any resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians. Accordingly, several years later, he declared: “Jerusalem is not a place, it is the constitutive concept of Israeli identity and our most fundamental ethos… We will not divide Jerusalem. No matter what happens. If that eventually means there will be no resolution [of the conflict] then there will be no resolution. Countries do not conduct negotiations over their own capital…”

So do we trust? Lapid A or Lapid B?

Likewise, Lapid’s attitude to the unilateral disengagement from Gaza underwent dramatic changes—and on which he unabashedly admitted his own unscrupulous deceit.

Just prior to the 2005 Disengagement, in his widely read Friday column in the mass circulation daily Yediot Aharonot, the vehicle with which he built much of his political stature, he expressed unbounded enthusiasm for the move. In a piece (24.6.2005) titled “To the opponents of Disengagement,” he wrote: “This [the Disengagement] seems the only prospect for a normal life here,” going so far as to brandish the specter of civil war with its opponents were they to succeed in thwarting it.

But merely a year later (13.10.2006), when the disastrous failure of the unilateral evacuation became appallingly apparent, he published “Things that could not be said at the time of the Disengagment.” In it, he admitted –with breathtaking audacity — that what he had written previously was in fact a giant hoax: “[The Disengagement] was never about the Palestinians, demography, the desire for a peace agreement, or the burden on the IDF.”

According to Lapid’s revised assessment of the real rationale behind the Disengagement, it was merely a measure designed to put the religious settlers “in their place” and to show that it was the secular population who called the shots in the county.

You have to read to believe!

Generals as an electoral asset?

Of course, the purported electoral appeal of the Blue & White lineup is that it includes three former IDF chiefs-of-staff (Gantz, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi). However, there is great doubt as to both how much of a political asset former generals really are and just how much political acumen they display once elected.

As for being a political asset, the record is at best dubious. Thus, Moshe Ya’alon was compelled to join up with Gantz, as his own party Telem was polling consistently under the minimal threshold for election to the Knesset.

Moreover, Israel’s political history is replete with former generals who proved to lack any lasting electoral appeal—such as former IDF Chief-of-Staff and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who was forced into humiliating political retirement when it was clear that his Kadima list (once the largest in the Knesset) would not get enough votes to pass the threshold for election, while no other party was prepared to offer him a realistic spot on its list.

Other names that spring to mind in the lengthy list of unimpressive performances by the top brass as effective vote-getters include Maj.-Gen. (res.) Danny Yatom, former head of the Mossad; V-Adm. (res.) Ami Ayalon, former commander of the navy and head of the Shin Bet; former Chief-of-Staff, the late Lt.-Gen. (res.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak; Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amram Mitzna, former head of Central Command; and the hapless Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Mordechai, former head of Southern Command and later defense minister.

Generals and political acumen

When it comes to political acumen, the historical record is unequivocally clear. Virtually every time top military figures have departed from their field of expertise (security) and ventured into one where they have none (politics); virtually every time they strayed from evaluating the military parameters to speculating as to political outcomes; virtually every time they have subordinated their professional discipline to their political ambitions, they have been disastrously wrong.

Thus, Yitzhak Rabin, despite reported grave misgivings, capitulated to pressures from his party’s left wing and ushered in the Oslo Accords, which left Israel’s streets, cafes and buses awash in blood and body parts; allowed the arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat and his cronies to return triumphantly to Gaza; and for hostile armed militias to deploy within mortar range of the nation’s parliament.

Ariel Sharon abandoned the Gaza Strip, a measure he once vehemently opposed, precipitating all the perils he foresaw and of which he warned, while forcefully expelling thousands of productive, loyal Israeli citizens and turning their homes over to savage hordes, who ravaged everything and anything left behind.

Then, of course, came Ehud Barak, heralded as the great “white hope” of Israeli politics—a hope that was soon to be dashed. Swept along by the halo of his military glory, Barak was quickly elected prime minister—and disaster soon followed hard on the heels of disaster.

He was forced out of office after little more than a year-and-a-half, but not before ordering the ignominious, unilateral flight of the IDF from South Lebanon in 2000, surrendering the area to Hezbollah; consenting – or rather capitulating – to the far-reaching concessions of the Clinton Parameters; and failing to contain the violence of the Second Intifada—which erupted despite his willingness to accept virtually all Palestinian demands.

(Mis) assessing Assad: A somber caveat for the voters?

Returning to Blue & White and the party’s latest recruit, former IDF Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi:

In November 2013, Ashkenazi assessed that by ceding the Golan to Assad, Syria could be coaxed away from its alliance with Iran and affiliate itself with a moderate grouping of nations. He was quoted in Ha’aretz as stating: “Syria is not lost. Assad is Western educated and is not a religious man. He can still join a moderate grouping.”

Askhenazi’s appallingly inaccurate assessment of the developments in Syria and its strategic attachment to Iran is particularly disturbing.

After all, before his appointment as chief-of -staff, much of his 40-year military career was spent in the IDF’s Northern Command, including a stint as its commander. One must, therefore, presume that a large portion of his time was devoted to evaluating the Syrian threat and to familiarizing himself with the nature of the Syrian military dictatorship and its ties to Iran.

The fact that his appraisal was so wildly erroneous should serve as a salutary warning to anyone who feels that a military background bestows any inherent advantage in assessing political developments.

Together with preceding analysis of the nature of the party, the credibility of its leadership and its rumored support for the perilous and pernicious plan for unilateral concessions in Judea Samaria, presently being assertively promoted by the copiously funded Institute for National Security Studies, it should also serve as a somber caveat for anyone considering casting their ballot for the brand new phenomenon of Blue & White.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.