This is not a very eve of Yom Kippur posting, but one needs to have some things to atone for, so here we go.
Big Mouth One: Benjamin Netanyahu.
This week, on Israel Channel 1 Television, Benjamin Netanyahu broke the wholly uncharacteristic disciplined silence that has characterized all Israeli spokespeople regarding the reported air strike on Syria two weeks ago. Of course, Netanyahu is not a Government representative, but rather a leader of the opposition, but he was expected to toe the line. Why? Because he was in on the secret as he cheerfully boasted to the viewers of Channel 1. This is what Bibi said:
When the prime minister take action in important and necessary matters, and generally when the government is doing things for the security of Israel, I give it my endorsement. I was party to this matter, I must say, from the first minute and I gave it my backing, but it is still too early to discuss this subject.
Well, that was very revealing, wasn't it? All of Netanyahu's critics rushed to put the boot in. On Israeli TV news yesterday, we were treated to vintage footage of classic Bibi foot-in-mouth moments (my favorite was when he was caught whispering to the aging Shas Rabbi Kadouri that "the left has forgotten what it is to be Jews").
Verdict: Netanyahu does have a big mouth, and it has a tendency to get him in trouble, but this was not one of those occasions. Netanyahu essentially confirmed nothing, and certainly gave us no new information. In fact, the rather exaggerated claim by the head of Israeli military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week that "Israel's deterrent capacity has been rehabilitated" was far more revealing. Netanyahu gets plenty of things wrong, this was not one of them.
Big Mouth Two: John Bolton.
John Bolton has become the darling of the Israeli media this week, and the mouth just underneath that mustache has been reminiscent of the Duracel Rabbit. As Bolton fell over himself with enthusiasm to spill whatever beans he could on the Syrian/North Korean/Iranian weapons proliferation cooperation. Bolton gave interviews to Israel Channel 10 News, to the Jerusalem Post, to Yediot Aharahnot, and Haaretz.
Israel's ambassador to the UN was quoted last summer as saying, "We really are not just five diplomats (at Israel's UN mission). We are at least six including John Bolton." Yikes! The standards at Israeli diplomatic school must be dropping fast.
Bolton was visibly cooing with his newfound freedom to publicly bloviate about this evil and that evil, and the need to attack everyone now that he is shorn of his official responsibilities (come to think of it, he was the same when he did have official responsibilities). For John Bolton, this was a trifecta: undermine the North Korea deal negotiated by Chris Hill and hated by the neocons, ensure the firm neocon grip on an anti-engagement policy towards Syria, and beat the war drums over Iran.
Verdict: Big Mouth Bolton can be a dangerous and destabilizing influence both in and out of government, and it's high time Israel removed Bolton from its Facebook Friend list.
Big Mouth Three: Ehud Barak.
The leader of Israel's Labor Party - you know, the party that's supposed to be left of center, for peace, more liberal, and all those sorts of things - attacked the Prime Minister this week (the guy who left Likud, and who is supposed to be to the right of Labor) for going too far in his talks with Palestinian President Abbas. Labor leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak came out against a declaration with the Palestinians that would include reference to the '67 lines, implied opposition to including Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods in a future Palestinian state (though he agreed to this in the past) and cautioned against Israel "withdrawing from principles that have stood for 40 years (the principles of occupation, settlement, and no peace, I guess).
In fact, this was nothing new. Barak has been running to the right of Olmert ever since he reassumed the Labor leadership. He has come out against further withdrawals from the West Bank in the next five years, and against easing the closure on the Palestinians. He has gone back to his old habits of negotiating with the settler leadership (the YESHA Council) over "koshering" certain wildcat outposts, and stuck stubbornly to his now seven-year old narrative of there being no Palestinian partner. It would be hard for anyone who witnessed first-hand Barak's management of the peace negotiations when he was Prime Minister not to stifle a giggle when he is offering negotiating tips to others.
Verdict: Ehud Barack does not have a big mouth. His words tend to be carefully calibrated, which makes his positioning all the more worrying. Sure, this might all be politics and pre-election posturing, but political leaders, with their words, also set a tone, and act as public educators. Ehud, if you want to be the future Prime Minister that delivers permanent secure and agreed borders for Israel in the North and with the Palestinians (which you apparently wanted to do, but failed at the first time of asking), then prepare that ground, don't scorch it. But if you want to be Likud 2.0, then who cares whether it's you, or Big Mouth One, in the Prime Minister's office, better just to stick with Olmert.