The never-ending smear battle between Education Minister Naftali Bennett (formerly a special forces officer) and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (formerly an office NCO) over the Netanyahu government’s military police took a short break for Simchat Torah and resumed Tuesday morning with great relish.
The defense minister said in an interview on Ynet that “Bennett represents the messianic and delusional right,” and in another interview, on Army Radio: “The State of Israel under Naftali Bennett is at the bottom of the ladder in the field of education.”
Bennett responded on the same Army Radio station: “The policy of Defense Minister Liberman is very weak. It is the opposite of what’s expected of a right-wing government, and sends a message to Hamas to increase its boldness.”
“From the start, I’ve been offering the opposite policy. Every incendiary balloon launcher should be shot,” Bennett said, adding, “Over the past six months, I have been saying clearly that the policy Liberman is leading is weak. The prime minister is Netanyahu and he will be the next prime minister. The question is, who will have the political power to pull the prime minister.”
So now you understand: Back in March 2015, Netanyahu was able to siphon off four precious sets from Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi, with the promise that when Likud forges the coalition, Bennett et al would be in anyway. After three years, going on four, of a lukewarm defense policy, both under former DM Moshe Yaalon and his successor Avigdor Liberman, Bennett takes a page out of Bibi’s play book: a vote for Habayit Hayehudi is a vote for a Netanyahu government, but with a staunch rightwinger at the defense helm – Naftali Bennett.
Liberman is in a fight for his political life, as his natural constituency—Russian olim—is aging and has reached enough political savvy to vote along political rather than ethnic lines. So that Yisrael Beiteinu must not just be Russian, it must also be rightwing and hawkish – which is where Bennett has been scoring on Liberman, who lacks Bennett’s military luster.
Bennett is a great believer in keeping the IDF in a dynamic stance, always seeking to engage the enemy. He accuses the defense policymakers of habitually preferring the short-term quiet over the long-term view that foresees the other side using these quiet periods to boost its military capacity. This has been true about Hezbollah, and about Hamas.
The Habayit Hayehudi chairman points an accusing finger at Liberman and Chief of Staff Eizenkot, who prefer static solutions that end up crumbling in the face of the enemy’s unexpected onslaught. Indeed, the IDF has been reluctantly probing its own policies, in response to an unflattering report from its ombudsman, which questioned its readiness to deal with future conflicts. Bennett believes the IDF brass does not believe in its division and battalion commanders in the field, which is why they prefer to rely on walls and fences.
All Liberman has to offer in response to Bennett’s jabs is scorn and sarcasm, which reveals an echo chamber mentality that could come back to hurt him in the next elections. Already tittering on the edge of the precipice with five seats, the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman better come up with better stuff than “I suggest that Minister Bennett talk about education and not about security. It’s not an accident that he does not talk about education, Bennett is prepared for one mandate to sacrifice both education and security. Bennett deals only with politics, he’s been doing it from the moment he landed in the political system.”
Liberman added a jab with a wink at the Habayit Hayehudi voters in Judea and Samaria, saying, “Unlike Bennett, who lives in Ra’anana, I live in Nokdim, I know exactly what the public thinks, and the public understands and is confident that we are prepared for every possible scenario in the future.”
Perhaps, but at the moment Bennett is educating the IDF on the harm of its reluctance to be aggressive, while Liberman comes across as a politician on the defense.