On Thursday morning, New Year’s Day, author Nir Baram got into an argument with an anchorman for the public station Channel l during the morning news. “We Israelis have to change our automatic mindset, which always says that military action will solve our problems,” said Baram. The anchorman responded in the name of the national consensus: “And what about Hamas? I don’t see them changing their mindset!” There’s no question that the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public supports the government’s decision to launch an aerial attack on Gaza, with the aim of “teaching Hamas a lesson.” However, if a ground invasion is launched and Israeli casualties increase, public opinion will change. It’s also clear that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s refrain that there was “no way of solving the problem of the Qassam rockets” was an inadequate answer to the dilemma created by Hamas rocket fire on Sderot and the other southern border towns and kibbutzim.
In many respects, Hamas brought this war on itself by declaring on December 19 that it was not renewing the cease-fire (tahadiya) and by renewing rocket fire even as it maneuvered for a “better cease-fire” from its point of view–primarily, the lifting of the international blockade. It should be noted, though, that lifting the blockade was a part of the June cease-fire agreement that was not implemented by Israel and the international community.
The Israeli government felt it was necessary to act militarily because of pressure from public opinion, the media and the right. After all, we are in the middle of an election campaign. And those are the rules of Middle Eastern life: you can’t show weakness when being attacked. That’s the Israeli mindset that Baram was referring to.
The current military campaign is being led by the trio of Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister and Kadima Party prime-minister-candidate Tzipi Livni, with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi being the fourth spoke in the leadership wheel.
The key player here is Barak (our Barak, not yours). Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israeli history, a man who brought tremendous potential to the prime minister’s office in 1999 only to bring the Labor Party down to its lowest point ever. The party that essentially established the state, and at its height had fifty-one members in the Knesset (out of 120), was only expected to get between eight to eleven seats in the next Knesset, down from nineteen in 2006. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who was considered a failed and discredited leader when his term as prime minister ended in 1999, brought his party down to only twelve seats in 2006, but he has been considered the most likely winner of the February elections.
To turn Barak’s image around, his PR geniuses decided to launch a reverse psychology campaign, with billboards stating, “He’s not nice, but he’s a leader,” and other variations on the theme. Barak is notorious for keeping his cards close to his chest, so nothing can be certain about his motivations. Until recently he wanted to demonstrate that he was the responsible one, withstanding pressure to do something foolhardy, unlike the hotheads on the right. However, once he decided to go ahead with military action, he clearly used deception to draw Hamas into the trap, even appearing a week before the attack on the opening show of the season of our very own version of Saturday Night Live, Wonderful Israel, making a fool of himself.