By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
May 11, 2012
Israeli troops salute their flag as they occupy Syrian territory during the Six Day War. (Photo by Stan Meagher/Express/Getty Images). 12th June 1967
In May 1967, in brazen violation of previous truce agreements, Egypt ordered
U.N. peacekeepers out of the Sinai, marched 120,000 troops to the Israeli
border, blockaded the Straits of Tiran (Israel’s southern outlet to the world’s
oceans), abruptly signed a military pact with Jordan and, together with Syria,
pledged war for the final destruction of Israel.
May ’67 was Israel’s most fearful, desperate month. The country was
surrounded and alone. Previous great-power guarantees proved worthless. A plan
to test the blockade with a Western flotilla failed for lack of participants.
Time was running out. Forced into mass mobilization in order to protect against
invasion — and with a military consisting overwhelmingly of civilian reservists
— life ground to a halt. The country was dying.
On June 5, Israel launched a preemptive strike on the Egyptian air force,
then proceeded to lightning victories on three fronts. The Six-Day War is
legend, but less remembered is that, four days earlier, the nationalist
opposition (Menachem Begin’s Likud precursor) was for the first time ever
brought into the government, creating an emergency national-unity coalition.
Everyone understood why. You do not undertake a supremely risky preemptive
war without the full participation of a broad coalition representing a national
Forty-five years later, in the middle of the night of May 7-8, 2012, Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shocked his country by bringing the main opposition
party, Kadima, into a national unity government. Shocking because just hours
earlier, the Knesset was expediting a bill to call early elections in
Why did the high-flying Netanyahu call off elections he was sure to win?
Because for Israelis today, it is May ’67. The dread is not quite as acute:
The mood is not despair, just foreboding. Time is running out, but not quite as
fast. War is not four days away, but it looms. Israelis today face the greatest
threat to their existence — nuclear weapons in the hands of apocalyptic mullahs
publicly pledged to Israel’s annihilation — since May ’67. The world is again
telling Israelis to do nothing as it looks for a way out. But if such a way is
not found — as in ’67 — Israelis know that they will once again have to defend
themselves, by themselves.
Such a fateful decision demands a national consensus. By creating the largest
coalition in nearly three decades, Netanyahu is establishing the political
premise for a preemptive strike, should it come to that. The new government
commands an astonishing 94 Knesset seats out of 120, described by one Israeli
columnist as a “hundred tons of solid concrete.”
So much for the recent media hype about some great domestic resistance to
Netanyahu’s hard line on Iran. Two notable retired intelligence figures were widely covered here for
coming out against him. Little noted was that one had been passed over by
Netanyahu to be the head of Mossad, while the other had been fired by Netanyahu
as Mossad chief (hence the job opening). For centrist Kadima (it pulled Israel
out of Gaza) to join a Likud-led coalition whose defense minister is a former
Labor prime minister (who once offered half of Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat) is
the very definition of national unity — and refutes the popular “Israel is
divided” meme. “Everyone is saying the same thing,” explained one Knesset
member, “though there may be a difference of tone.”
To be sure, Netanyahu and Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz offered more prosaic reasons
for their merger: to mandate national service for now exempt ultra- Orthodox
youth, to change the election law to reduce the disproportionate influence of
minor parties and to seek negotiations with the Palestinians. But Netanyahu, the
first Likud prime minister to recognize Palestinian statehood, did not need Kadima for
him to enter peace talks. For two years he’s been waiting for Mahmoud Abbas to
show up at the table. Abbas hasn’t. And won’t. Nothing will change on that
What does change is Israel’s position vis-a-vis Iran. The wall-to-wall
coalition demonstrates Israel’s political readiness to attack, if
necessary. (Its military readiness is not in doubt.)
Those counseling Israeli submission, resignation or just endless patience can
no longer dismiss Israel’s tough stance as the work of irredeemable
right-wingers. Not with a government now representing 78 percent of the
Netanyahu forfeited September elections that would have given him four more
years in power. He chose instead to form a national coalition that guarantees 18
months of stability — 18 months during which, if the world does not act (whether
by diplomacy or otherwise) to stop Iran, Israel will.
And it will not be the work of one man, one party or one ideological faction.
As in 1967, it will be the work of a nation.