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Lieberman’s resignation prioritised politics over Israel’s security

November 15, 2018 at 12:38 pm

Avigdor Lieberman on 18 Februrary, 2017

The resignation of Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggests that the political leadership in the Zionist state is in real trouble over the Gaza Strip and that its security calculations are not completely devoid of electoral considerations. In the press conference announcing his decision, Lieberman did not criticise the army leadership but, instead, attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He pointed out his differences with Netanyahu on a number of security issues, such as the refusal to evict everyone from Khan Al-Ahmar and allowing the donation from Qatar to be transferred to Gaza.

Thus, it can be argued that Lieberman was quick to resign due to his hope of political and electoral gains, not because of his fundamental differences with the security establishment and Netanyahu. He was aware that his resignation would have a major impact on Israel and Gaza, where the Palestinian factions viewed his resignation as a political victory for the resistance, which had shaken the Israelis in this week’s confrontation that lasted less than 48 hours.

In addition to the limited Israeli options for dealing with the Gaza “time bomb” and Lieberman’s failure to expand them, his resignation is more or less the launch of the next electoral campaign in which he wants to appear to voters as the “real Rambo”, as he was described by a former parliamentarian from his party yesterday. Lieberman is expected to fight the election as a battle for his political destiny, with the polls showing that his party’s popularity is declining rapidly, with voters apparently preferring Netanyahu’s positions on Gaza.

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It seems that Netanyahu and security officials ignored Lieberman’s proposals and dealt with him in a cursory fashion, according to local media reports. The Prime Minister then imposed a ceasefire without seeking Cabinet approval.

Hence, I am certain that Lieberman has resigned with the election in mind, and narrow considerations unrelated to Israel’s security. This does not mean that he wasn’t a failure at the Defence and Security ministries. Right until his last day in power he had not offered any other solutions for Gaza other than more death and destruction.

The factions in the besieged territory confronted Israel’s latest military incursion with maturity when reading the Israeli positions, utilising psychological means through social media and the circulation of videos of its reactive operation. The Hamas military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, demonstrated that it targeted the military bus near the nominal border but not until it was empty. This sent a clear message that it could have killed dozens of soldiers, but did not want to escalate matters. In doing so, the resistance leadership came across as disciplined and calculating.

The resistance groups also demonstrated their more sophisticated capabilities, especially the improved accuracy and range of its rockets, which hit buildings in Ashkelon and reached the Dead Sea. According to Israeli estimates, the factions fired a record number of rockets — almost 500 in 24 hours — which is much higher than in previous confrontations. This confirmed that their projectiles are no longer “absurd”, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas once called them.

The level of maturity — attributed in part to the establishment of a joint command room to coordinate the factions’ activities — prompted former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to tell Yedioth Ahronoth after the ceasefire that the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, must have been in control.

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It is worth noting that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) leaked to several media outlets that it deliberately did not target civilians in Gaza, as it has done in previous offensives, and that it “dealt a harsh blow” to Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets. This can be interpreted as the IDF acknowledging that there is no military solution for the situation in Gaza and that the solution must be political. Most importantly, that in the eyes of the IDF, Hamas is not an existential threat that requires further escalation, bombing and the targeting of civilians, but is a strategic threat which must be managed politically. This view is unlike the position taken against Iran, for example, which Israel views as an existential threat that must be challenged anywhere and everywhere. All of this suggests that Hamas is not a priority, but Iran and the Syrian front are.

In conclusion, Lieberman’s resignation can be seen as the beginning of his political end, and the end of narrow-minded political and electoral considerations, which overcame his security calculations, such as the damage to the morale and propaganda of Israeli parties and public opinion that will be caused by his resignation. The Palestinian factions in Gaza, meanwhile, overcame their political differences, which is an important point in their favour.

As long as the IDF does not consider Gaza to be an existential threat that requires extensive military intervention with the consequent losses among its ranks that that would entail, then Israel will continue to regard it as a strategic threat. For this to remain the case, there needs to be efforts made through political channels to relieve the suffering of the Palestinians in the coastal territory. Whatever happens, from the Palestinian point of view, the deterrence factor created by the factions in this week’s confrontation must not be compromised.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arab48 on 14 November 2018 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.