When listening to politicians, it is always important to read between the lines. And Binyamin Netanyahu’s body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and especially the text of his statements since the kidnapping crisis began on Thursday night have made three things clear: He has no idea where the hostages are being held, if they are alive, or who is behind the incident.
Take, for instance, Netanyahu’s immediate assessment that the kidnapping was the “result” of the Palestinian Unity Government smacked of little more than cheap politicking. What, there were no terror attacks before the agreement? Hamas needed a life-saving deal with Abu Mazen (a deal which, I note, saw Hamas bow to most of Fatah’s demands, rather than the opposite. But I digress…) in order to try to kidnap Israelis? Don’t tell all that to a guy called Shalit.
Furthermore, even Netanyahu’s accusation Sunday that Hamas operatives kidnapped the boys sounded more like an automatic fallback assumption, rather than a hard appraisal of intelligence information. One need not place faith in left-wing activists like Gershon Baskin,the architect of the Schalit exchange – who wrote on his Facebook page that he “believes” Hamas officials who told him their organization had nothing to do with the attack – in order to question Hamas’ involvement here.
This is not because Hamas has suddenly become a Zionist organization, but rather because the group’s interest at present is to reap the benefits (mostly financial) of the unity deal with Fatah. The organization is reeling – Gaza is broke, international money is not coming in, opposition to Islamist rule in Gaza is growing. The deal with Fatah opened up new channels of funding -including from Israel and the United States – as well as an opportunity to keep the Rafah border crossing to Egypt open.
For those reasons, it is far from clear that Hamas was responsible here, at least on an organisational level. On this front, at least, it pays to take Baskin’s Facebook analysis seriously: There is no shortage of local cells associated with Salafi groups like Hizb al Tahrir, feeling emboldened by last week’s successes in Iraq and itching to bring the worldwide jihad to the Levant in order to “liberate Palestine.” Same is true for locally0-based Islamic Jihad activists. Neither of these groups lacks “reasons” to attack Israeli civilians, and would appear at least as likely to have kidnapped the students as Hamas.
In order to understand Netanyahu’s shallow finger pointing, the prime minister appears to be guided by one, and only one, policy: Ensuring his own political survival. He proved this clearly when he agreed to release 1,027 killers in exchange for Gilad Shalit – a deal that violated Netanyahu’s own analysis of the war on terror. Netanyahu understood full well that the Shalit deal set the stage for this kidnapping episode, and he remained steadfast during that ordeal as long as he determined that his political survival allowed for that course.
But when those political winds (or, at least, his reading of the political winds) changed, he moved quickly to complete the deal.
This, then, is Netanyahu version 2014. While the arrests of Hamas leaders and members Saturday night and Sunday were certainly warranted and legitimate, the prime minister would do well to internalise that that organization is far from the only suspect in this attack. We can only hope that behind the bright lights of the political stage, that is a reality that the political and security echelons have started to internalise.