Things at the Syrian border aren’t funny. There are warnings and shootings and threats and leaks of contradictory nature. Some observers complained in recent days that Israel’s message isn’t clear. On the one hand, an Israeli senior official tells the NYT that “if Syrian President Assad reacts by attacking Israel, or tries to strike Israel through his terrorist proxies he will risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate”. On the other hand, a report in the Times of London quotes a senior Israeli intelligence officer who said “better the devil we know than the demons we can only imagine if Syria falls into chaos and the extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there” – a report that was vehemently denied later. So – does Israel want Assad to “forfeit his regime” or does it want the “devil we know”?
In fact, the answer is not that complicated – and would be clearer to all observers if Israeli officers resisted their urgent desire to constantly make unnecessary statements: Israel doesn’t want any part in the Syrian conflict as long as its security remains intact. It doesn’t care much if Assad stays or goes away as it has learned an important lesson in the last two years: In the Middle East one never knows which devil is better.
We all know that Minister Yair Lapid wants to be Prime Minister, and while his numbers are currently going down he might still be Prime Minister some day. But his insistence on telling interviewers that he intends to succeed his boss, Prime Minister Netanyahu, is less than admirable.
Remember: Netanyahu is the Prime Minister and the head of the coalition in which Lapid is a member and a Finance Minister. By telling reporters that Netanyahu’s seat is his true target, Lapid is forcing the PM to do one of three things:
- Ignore the threat – but that’s against the instinct of any politician. Netanyahu must find a way to slow down the ambitious kid.
- Make Lapid’s life more difficult – but this possibly means toying with Israel’s economy in ways that might be harmful not just to Lapid but to the country as a whole as well.
- Get rid of Lapid while he still can – only he can’t, unless Netanyahu decides to opt for a very narrow and very fragile coalition (and even then, it’s not clear that he can pull it off).
So Lapid is leaving Netanyahu with three bad options, two of them are clearly bad for the country as well. And no – the fact that he said he was in “no hurry” is not good enough. It would have been more polite, more gracious and no less effective to say: this isn’t the time or the place to talk about political ambitions.
If right-leaning Jen Rubin can praise an article in the left-leaning Haaretz – as she does with the one on John Kerry’s many errors - everything is possible (except for Kerry advancing the peace process).
As for Haaretz’ Kerry hatchet-job: one gets the feeling that the new Secretary of State would be well advised to spend more time talking to Israeli journalists – or else…
I was invited to a TV studio today to speak about the coming Kerry visit, and was scratching my head as I was trying to come up with something nice – or new – to say. Yes, it is truly puzzling to see a Secretary of state spending so much time on the Israeli-Palestinian track while Syria is burning. But that’s not quite new. Yes, “in these inauspicious circumstances”, as Peter Berkowitz aptly advocates, “an American secretary of state should not seek to convene another international conference and should not unfurl a new comprehensive plan”. But that’s not the kind of advice Kerry-types would follow.
Best reader-comment of the week comes from a reader of my IHT-NYT article on the race for Israel’s chief rabbi: “This is prime material for a new daytime soap”.