Yair Lapid, thinking the unthinkable

Who can be blamed for allowing “heretical” alternative explanations to enter one's mind?

Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid at the Jerusalem District Court, June 12, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid at the Jerusalem District Court, June 12, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

“We will divide up the region. Israel will return most of the West Bank, and the Palestinian flag will fly on public buildings in East Jerusalem.” — Yair Lapid, Der Spiegel, May 8, 2008.  

“Jerusalem is not a place; it is the constitutive concept of Israeli identity and our most fundamental ethos. … We will not divide Jerusalem. No matter what happens. If that eventually means that there will be no resolution [of the conflict] then there will be no resolution.” — Yair Lapid, Walla, Dec. 27, 2014.

This week, the leader of the Israeli opposition Yair Lapid appeared in Jerusalem District Court as a prosecution witness in the trial of his primary political adversary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Like a string of previous prosecution witnesses, Lapid’s testimony ended up strengthening the case for the defense.

Opinions as tools to fulfill ambitions

Lapid’s performance on the stand underscored just how little credibility the man has. Indeed, Lapid has rarely expressed on opinion without, elsewhere, expressing the diametrically opposite opinion.

For example, there is Lapid’s breathtaking about-face on judicial reform. Whereas today he is a vociferous opponent of the changes to Israel’s legal system proposed by the current coalition, just a few years ago he endorsed the very same measures.

A cursory Google search will reveal similarly dramatic U-turns on the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and the status of the Golan Heights.

Indeed, it appears that Lapid does not have a genuine opinion on anything. All he has is ambition and opinions are no more than tools for fulfilling that ambition. These tools can be changed at will, depending on transient needs.

Rushed and rash

This lamentable conclusion cannot but make scrutiny of Lapid’s conduct during his fleeting term as prime minister necessary.

In this regard, Lapid’s most prominent decision was the rushed and rash Oct. 2022 agreement to adjust Israel’s northern maritime border in favor of Lebanon. This entailed the transfer of large portions of potentially rich natural gas resources to the Hezbollah-controlled nation. These resources were earmarked for development, in large measure by the French concern Total S.A.

Lapid’s move defies logic both in terms of its purported rationale and its precipitous execution.

The ostensible justification for the agreement was to persuade Hezbollah to refrain from attacking a nearby Israeli oil rig. Thus, for all intents and purposes, it was a surrender to extortion by an Islamist terrorist organization.

The agreement was heralded with shamelessly hyperbolic fanfare, being dubbed “historic” by Lapid himself.

Of course, bowing to extortion is a notoriously shortsighted policy. Sure enough, the rationale for the Israeli concessions soon began to unravel. In May 2023, both the IDF chief of staff and the head of military intelligence warned of a real danger of war with Hezbollah, which was engaged in ominous saber rattling.

Subordinating professional integrity to political allegiance

All of this is particularly troubling given the warm endorsement of the maritime agreement by former and serving senior officials in Israel’s security establishment.

Given the prevailing realities in Lebanon, their support for the agreement seems to reflect an almost childlike naivete. It is strongly reminiscent of the endorsement that senior echelons of the U.S. intelligence community provided for the wildly mendacious claim that Hunter Biden’s incriminating laptop was “Russian disinformation.”

Sadly, it appears that it is not usual to find senior security personnel—past and present—in the U.S. and Israel who are prepared to subordinate their professional integrity to political allegiances.

It was particularly risible to read the praise for the agreement from Orna Mizrahi, a former deputy national security adviser and currently a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). According to her, the maritime agreement was “a very important agreement. It even raises hopes that there could be real change in the relationship between the two countries.”

She appears to have missed the fact that Hezbollah is not party to the agreement and the government of Lebanon refused to sign a pact directly with Israel, agreeing to give a commitment only to the U.S.

Untoward haste

Not only is the lavish praise from senior security experts for the maritime agreement both puzzling and perturbing, but so is the untoward haste with which the agreement was pushed through.

The professed justification for the unbecoming rush was the claim that the term of then-Lebanese President Michel Aoun was about to end and there was uncertainty about who would replace him.

Interestingly, at time of writing, Aoun has not yet been replaced, mainly due to obstruction by Hezbollah. It borders on the absurd to believe that any Hezbollah-approved president would feel bound by a document signed by his predecessor.

Thus, the heavy-handed manner with which the Lapid interim government pushed the agreement through in the final days of its term is disturbing.

Riding roughshod over time-honored democratic norms and conventions, Lapid—with the collusion of his domesticated Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara—did not seek Knesset approval of the agreement. He argued that, in light of what he considered its “wanton behavior,” the Knesset should not be consulted. This implies that, for Lapid, only pliable and acquiescent parliaments merit his attention.

This brazen dismissal of the institutions of democracy was so blatant that it prompted one of Lapid’s ministers to express her discomfort. Ayelet Shaked confronted Lapid, saying, “You describe the agreement as a historic agreement. If it is historic you are obligated to present it for the approval of the sovereign—the Knesset.” Pointedly, she asked, “What are you afraid of?”

Is Israeli patriotism dead?

Given all this, thorny questions are unavoidable.

Today, political statements once considered beyond the pale and political deeds once considered inconceivable are becoming increasingly commonplace. Thus, nothing can be discounted.

When former prime ministers, defense ministers and IDF chiefs-of-staff openly call for violent civil insurrection and tax rebellion; when prominent public figures urge foreign governments to shun members of a democratically-elected coalition; when calls for desertion are condoned—even commended—past assumptions and taboos can no longer be considered valid.

What once was considered outrageous may no longer be outrageous—even the demise of patriotism among Israel’s elites.

With this in mind, can we now attempt to explain the 2022 maritime deal?

It is intriguing to note that Lapid and French President Emmanuel Macron have a long ongoing friendship, dating back to before either were heads of government.

Lapid, in a highly unusual step, endorsed Macron’s 2017 presidential bid. In return, Macron endeavored to help Lapid in the 2019 elections in Israel, with a high-profile meeting just days before the polls.

Add to this Total S.A.’s major stake in the maritime deal and the fact that the firm is 50%-owned by the French government, and it is difficult not to let “heretical” thoughts creep into one’s mind.

Thinking the unthinkable

All of this arouses suspicions that those who pushed so hard to rush through an “anomalous” gas deal may have had ulterior motives. Indeed, how can a reasonable observer refrain from thinking the unthinkable?

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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