Night Boat to Cairo


It is hard to imagine how Gaza may be rendered terror free and tractable. Events in Israel carry a dire warning, not only for Israelis, but for the rest of the free world. Timing is everything in war. Hamas has made no secret of its aim to destroy the state of Israel and expel or murder all Jews. Why launch a concerted attack now? 

A popular misconception in the West is that extremists like Hamas, Hezbollah and the regime in Tehran can be reasoned with. Ignore the firebomb rhetoric, the old saw runs, and most folk just want to live in peace. 

Wandering the fields and orchards of rural Israel more than 40 years ago it was hard not to believe in peace. Volunteers on country kibbutzim and moshavim (farms) all knew the odd Palestinian who wanted a quiet life. 

Intelligence analysts now understand that Hamas was playing down its militancy over the last two or three years. In that time it built up weapons and escalated training apparently funded by Iran. Meanwhile Israel has become a fractured society, badly disunited.

The febrile world of Israeli politics has always seemed impenetrable to the outsider. When I lived in Israel all those years ago, a general election was contested by no less than 42 parties. Menachem Begin’s Likud coalition won and went on to make peace with Anwar Sadat and Egypt. In the latest elections, last year, Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, returned to form a majority coalition enlisting the help of Judaic religious parties and a nationalist party. One might think political parties emphasising Israeli security and the sanctity of the Hebrew faith would be acceptable to all residents of Israel. Sadly this was not so.

In fact, Netanyahu’s victory has enraged the Israeli left.

Why is this?

Going back to the foundation of the modern state of Israel, it is important to remember that it was set up in the main by penniless immigrants from countries as far afield as Morocco, Poland, Yemen and Russia. The idea of creating a country from hard work and ingenuity found a deep resonance with the returning children of the promise. A system of kibbutzim emerged; cooperative villages where everybody owns everything in common and works for the common good. Likewise Israel’s trade union, the Histadrut, formed in 1920, grew in power, owning businesses, banks and factories. At its peak the Histadrut was the second largest employer in Israel. 

Thus the Left with some justification can claim to have set up the country. However Benjamin Netanyahu had studied business and economics in the United States. Back in the day, Bibi Netanyahu worked for the Boston Consulting Group and greatly admired Margaret Thatcher. 

Once in power, Netanyahu liberalised the economy and privatised moribund state industries by the score. As a result Israel became one of the most prosperous and dynamic economies in the world. The Left has a real problem with this and the Left still dominates much of Israeli society – including the judiciary and the media.

Modest attempts to reform  a justice system that sees high court judges routinely throwing out legislation they consider unreasonable have been met with violent protest. 

It is this division that has caused Palestinians and Iranians to rub their hands together with glee.

The enemies of the free world strike when they consider the target state divided and weak. Putin went after Ukraine when Donald Trump left office. It was a similar story in how America left Afghanistan. Whether it is Chinese communism, Russian neo-imperialism or Iranian jihad, the message for the West is clear: Unite. Unite and fight. Or perish. 

Unity in domestic Israeli politics is essential. But the ultimate solution to the Gaza crisis lies further west. Menachem Begin, from a position of strength, signed a peace treaty with Anwar Sadat – later gunned down by fundamentalists. Sadat realised he could not win a war with Israel. It is to Cairo that Netanyahu – Begin’s successor – has to look.

Gazans – I was told – speak Arabic with an Egyptian accent. With Egypt’s connivance, Israel can expel Hamas from Gaza. The challenge for Netanyahu – linear successor to Begin – is to carry Egypt with him as well as the Saudis and the anti-Iranian regimes anxiously watching on.

This will be the last and most important challenge former special forces man Bibi Netanyahu faces as he reaches his last half mile. 

John Musgrave is a writer and, like this magazine, a steadfast supporter of Israel.