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Misconception 6:
The Right is Strong on Security

For years we’ve been told that the Right is strong, the Left is weak, and Netanyahu is Mr. Security. But in reality, right-wing governments have dragged Israel’s security to an unprecedented low point – and not by chance.

October 2022

Netanyahu on the eve of the elections: “We were responsible for the best decade in Israeli history in terms of security. Lapid set up a government with supporters of terrorism and harmed our security. You must vote Likud so we can restore security to Israel”

December 29, 2022

 The sixth Netanyahu government is sworn in. Ben-Gvir is named minister of national security; Smotrich is given control of the Civil Administration in the territories

January 30, 2023

 Bezalel Smotrich: “A combination of punishment and deterrence with extensive construction and settlement will uproot the terrorists’ hopes and in the long term lead to a significant decline in the scale of terrorism against us”

February 2023

 Ben-Gvir shuts down the bakeries in prisons that provide pitot to security prisoners and shortens their showering time to four minutes: “We have to set things in order and restore our sovereignty in the prisons”

February 26, 2023

Two Israelis are murdered in a terrorist attack in Hawara. In response, hundreds of settlers set fire to houses and property in the village. Smotrich: “We should wipe Hawara off the map”

June 2023

 Four Israelis are murdered by terrorists in the settlement of Eli. In response, dozens of settlers stream to the Evyatar outpost and go on a rampage in Palestinian villages. Ben-Gvir: “Run to the hilltops. That’s the only way to restore the residents’ security”

August 6, 2023

The head of the GSS warns that Jewish terrorism fans Palestinian terrorism.

September 11, 2023

IDF Chief of Staff: “We have to be in constant readiness for a multifront conflict.” Yinon Magal responds: “Days of panic”

October 7, 2023

Thousands of Hamas terrorists pour across the border into Israel, murdering 1,200 Israelis and abducting 240 people to Gaza

Ahead of Israel’s 2015 elections, the Likud campaign released a video depicting ISIS fighters riding in a white pickup truck, waving flags of the Islamic State. The fighters stop next to an Israeli driver and ask him, in Arabic-accented Hebrew: “Brother, how do we get to Jerusalem?” The driver answers: “Take a left.” The video ends with the slogan, “The Left will surrender to terrorism,” against a black background and the sound of war drums, followed by: “It’s either us or them. Only the Likud, headed by Netanyahu.”

Seven years later, the most right-wing government in Israel’s history took office. Within less than a year, the Likud’s scare campaign became our nightmare reality. In the worst security disaster in Israeli history, Hamas fighters in white pickup trucks infiltrated the country, slaughtered children, women, and men, and abducted hundreds of civilians to Gaza.

The disparity between the right-wing leaders’ bombastic declarations and their actual achievements is not coincidental. It is a result of long years of employing “strong” rhetoric to veil a weak and dangerous policy.

The Right has always been strong in words. In 1999, Netanyahu marketed himself as “a strong leader for a strong people”; in 2006 he boasted that he was “strong against Hamas”; in 2009 he promised to “topple the Hamas terrorist government.”

In 1999, Netanyahu marketed himself as “a strong leader for a strong people”; in 2006 he boasted that he was “strong against Hamas”; in 2009 he promised to “topple the Hamas terrorist government.” Avigdor Liberman asserted that he is the only one who “understands Arabic.” Naftali Bennett promised to “defeat Hamas.” Itamar Ben-Gvir proclaimed that his Jewish Power party would show everyone “who’s master of the house” and that the Palestinians would receive “50 of our missiles for every one of their missiles.”

But in practice, despite these threats and empty boasts, during its 14 years in power the Right has not brought Hamas down but has in fact made it stronger. Netanyahu’s governments never modified or annulled the Oslo Accords or Israel’s disengagement from Gaza—which the right wing claimed were disastrous ideas. No alternative was ever placed on the table, as the Right stubbornly insisted that the only way to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to “manage” it—to employ massive force and pray that this would create “deterrence.” This conception has collapsed. Instead of quiet, we had one round of fighting in Gaza after another, the “Intifada of Knives,” shooting attacks, and more violence. In the absence of a fully developed security doctrine and serious, professional policies appropriate for this difficult reality, the Right became addicted to absurd and symbolic proposals that had no more than an accidental connection to defending our safety.

Last decade it was Liberman and his party who promoted a law to impose the death penalty on terrorists. The fact that professionals, notably the head of the Shin Bet, thought it was a dangerous idea that would encourage the kidnapping of Jews rather than serve as a deterrent, did not move Liberman or the other right-wing elements that have adopted the idea since then. The Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose tenure—even before October 7—was one of the deadliest periods in Israel since the Second Intifada, is the current thug who deals in meaningless proposals such as the closure of a pita bakery serving security inmates and the obsessive pursuit of Palestinian flags.

Itamar Ben-Gvir has focused on the closure of a pita bakery serving security inmates and the obsessive pursuit of Palestinian flags. Behind these theatrics lies a total neglect of Israel’s security: Even before October 7, Ben-Gvir’s tenure as Minister of National Security was one of the deadliest periods in Israel since the Second Intifada.

The only consistent security doctrine that the Right has proposed over the years comes down to expanding the settlements, on the grounds that building homes and kindergartens in the midst of a hostile population would supposedly guarantee Israel’s security. For example, in 2018 Bennett said that “the answer to terrorism is to kill lots of terrorists and to build lots of settlements.“ However, what lay behind the settlement project was never a clear-eyed professional assessment focused on Israeli security needs, but rather a campaign to justify a messianic policy lacking strong public support.

Menachem Felix, one of the leaders of the Gush Emunim movement, made this plain in 1979, when the project was still in its infancy: “Settlement itself… does not stem from security motives or physical needs, but rather from destiny and the return of Israel to its land.” Similarly Daniela Weiss, a leader of the settlement movement, explained that “a serious example of ideological distortion is the emphasis on establishing Jewish settlements only because they are needed for security.”

Over the years it has become clear that Israeli settlements in the territories are not a security asset but a burden. When the settler leadership realized that Israelis prefer safety and quiet to another outpost in the midst of the Palestinian population, they changed their tune and concealed their messianism behind arguments based on security. The journalist Akiva Novick, for example, recalling the protests against the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, said that “what motivated us was first of all our love for the country and the land. … It was only when we understood that this language didn’t work that we brought up the security argument.”

Akiva Novick acknowledged that the protests against the disengagement from Gaza were not spawned by fears for Israel’s security. “What motivated us was first of all our love for the country and the land. It was only when we understood that this language didn’t work that we brought up the security argument.”

In truth, the ideology of Israel’s settler right is based on sacrificing Israeli security, not protecting it. It sees the death of hundreds of Israelis as a tolerable price on the road to redemption of the land. Early this year the Minister for National Missions, Orit Strock, called for re-occupying Gaza and establishing settlements there. “Unfortunately,” she said, “returning to Gaza will involve many victims. But at the end of the day, it’s part of the Land of Israel. We have no choice and must do it.” On another occasion she said, “It will happen when the Jewish people are ripe for it, and to my great sorrow it will cost us much blood.”

The terrible price that Israeli society paid on October 7 for right-wing governments’ neglect of security has not changed this view. Quite the contrary. Bezalel Smotrich has asserted that “perhaps we needed to receive this terrible and painful blow in order to remember who we are and what we are.” Amichai Friedman, a rabbi of the Nahal Brigade, told soldiers that “this has been the happiest month of my life. … This land is ours. All of it. Including Gaza. Including Lebanon. The entire Promised Land. We’re going to come back big time… Gush Katif is nothing compared to what we will reach.”

To position themselves as “strong on security,” right-wing leaders sowed fear of terrible violence and even promised to wage all-out war—not against Hamas but against the Israeli Left. The Left was depicted as naïve, led astray by utopian illusions, and motivated by abstract ethical principles rather than real-world security considerations. Its aspiration to end conflicts by means of diplomatic agreements was described as a pacifist fantasy.

The truth is very different. “I was defense minister when the Intifada broke out,” is how Yitzhak Rabin explained his support for a diplomatic process. “I employed force, harsh measures. … But in the second half of 1988 I reached the conclusion that without a combination of force and a proposal for a political solution we would never solve the problem.”

Today, too, the Left’s support for a political solution matches the position of security experts. In 2016, even Knesset member David Bitan of the Likud acknowledged this. “Something happens to you over the years in these positions,” he said. “Over the years the heads of Shin Bet and Mossad become leftists.” This “something” is the sober recognition that security means recognizing the limits of military force alone. In 2014, the Planning Directorate of the General Staff completed a long research project that examined whether and how the IDF could maintain the country’s security in a two-state scenario. “The team’s conclusion was very clear,” reported the then-head of the Planning Directorate, Maj. Gen. (res.) Nimrod Sheffer. “It is possible to adequately defend the State of Israel, without any compromises, in a two-state scenario.” In 2015 Ehud Barak, former IDF Chief of Staff and former Prime Minister, said, “If you assemble all the top brass of the IDF General Staff, every past OC Central Command, all the heads of the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence—90% of them will say that the IDF would be better able to defend Israeli civilians from a recognized international border.”

Israel faces a terrible, bloody, and protracted national struggle. Already in the pre-State era of the Haganah and Palmach, which were established by the left-wing parties and the kibbutz movement—the Left was deeply invested in providing security. The political solutions the Left proposed over the years were borne of clear-eyed professionalism—not a hankering for Woodstock. Bluster about revenge and visions of sacred soil will not help us. Today, when the illusion of “Netanyahu – Mr. Security” and the delusion that “the Right is strong on security” have been shattered, the time has come to decide: do we aspire to a serious and professional security policy? Or will we again settle for hotheads whose security policies run no deeper than hollow rhetoric such as calling to drop a nuclear bomb on Gaza?