Netanyahu vs. the generals
Netanyahu vs. the generals

On July 3, Politico, an online political magazine, published a disturbing article by Amir Tibon, the political correspondent of Walla.  The title of the article was, “Netanyahu vs. the Generals.”  Beneath the headline, a supporting statement followed:  “Israel’s prime minister is fighting hard to weaken the most important moderate force in his country.  Which is why he’s going to be a big problem for the next U.S. president.” 

From the headline [koteret] itself one can guess what will follow.  From the very beginning, the author accuses the prime minister of wrongdoing.  If the reader shares the author’s politics and ideology, this article might make sense.  The problem is that Tibon’s article is confused and lacks clear reasoning.

Tibon takes the view that Netanyahu has serious character faults, a flawed but bellicose personality, and that essentially he is unfit to lead the State of Israel.  Beyond issues of personality, Tibon accuses the prime minister of wrongfully attempting to deprive the defense establishment of its influence.  The problem, according to the author, is that Bibi just does not belong, and that he lacks legitimacy.  For him, the defense establishment knows better

It is the practice in most states, democratic and otherwise, that the civilian government makes policy and gives its instructions to the military. 
and should be making the major decisions affecting the destiny of the State. 

The message of the article may be somewhat original but not the underlying message of indignation and anger.  One gets the feeling that the plebeian voters are wrong, and a paternalistic elite caste knows much better.   

There is something seriously wrong about this article beyond its confused logic and advocacy of an immoral type of politics where the end justifies the means.  There are several compelling facts which Tibon downplays or ignores.  Bibi was legally chosen through free elections to be the prime minister of the State of Israel.  He is the legitimate leader of the state and legally empowered to build a government and to choose his ministers.   It is the practice in most states, democratic and otherwise, that the civilian government makes policy and gives its instructions to the military. 

Does anyone still remember that President Harry Truman removed General Douglas MacArthur from his command (April 1951)?  This is how things work in democracies.  Amir Tibon is actually arguing against the accepted practice throughout the world.  And the rest of the world is not out of step. 

We have gotten used to many outrageous propositions, but if one goes beyond idle talk, the fact that Ehud Barak declared war against the prime minister with the objective of replacing him smells of a putsch.  In view of Barak’s tainted reputation, there is no way that he could win an election in Israel.  His reputation includes the disorderly retreat from Lebanon and the mismanagement of the Camp David negotiations.  We should not even mention his cowardly abandonment of the Army of Southern Lebanon which brought shame to the State, betraying an ally. 

It is the full right of Amir Tibon to dislike Bibi.  Nonetheless, it is dangerous to give implicit support to the illegal transfer of power under a democracy, -- whatever the justification.  Such arguments prepare the ground for sedition.

There are historical precedents for what Tibon advocates.  The general staff in Germany, both in Imperial Germany and under Weimar, wielded dangerously powerful influence.   It is noteworthy that, under Hitler, the German generals strongly opposed the invasion of Soviet Russia.  Also, the army in Imperial Japan was represented directly in the cabinet, and this army was warlike and aggressive. 

As in all democracies, the situation is imperfect in Israel.  There may even be some merit in the view that it would be better not to begin a frontal war with Iran, despite the fact that Iran, through its proxies on all fronts is making continuous war against Israel.

The point is that in democracies, the security establishment does not make policy, although it is free to make its views known within the framework of the decision-making process.  Simply, it owes loyalty to the State. 

Mr. Tibon should be very careful what he wishes for.

Dr. Joel Fishman is a trained historian and works at a research institute in Jerusalem. This article appeared in Hebrew at Mida.