“Disobedience”, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned earlier this week, “could lead to the state’s collapse”.
And of course, he’s right. But not the disobedience of a small cadre of kooky soldiers.
At the core of this debate the question is supposedly simple: who makes the rules? For most Israelis, the answer is clear — it is the government. But for some confused soldiers (and civilians) it is not that clear — they think that their rabbis make the rules, and that their ideals and beliefs cannot be curbed by the state.
They try to score points with the public by trickery and deception, arguing publicly that what they want is for the military not to be engaged in politics — namely, not to evacuate settlers. They say — and they do have a point — that the evacuation of civilians is not a role for the military, but for the police.
But this is no more than a tactic. What they really want is for no civilian to be evacuated. And they know that without the military, evacuation will become much more difficult, if not impossible.
All this can be interpreted hysterically as a sign that the state is losing control over factions of the military. But, more calmly, it should be interpreted differently.
The attempts by radical rabbis and their young followers to raise a flag against the evacuation of outposts is really a sign of desperation.
Losing battle after battle, retreating time and again, the more extreme fringes of the settlement movement do not know how they can turn the tide. How to change public opinion. How to make Israelis care more about the settlements.
Because most Israelis do not really care. True, they are not happy with American demands to halt all settlement construction, and not happy about plans for possible pullouts, but that is only because they do not see how such moves serve Israel’s interests right now.
They were burnt by the experience of the Gaza pullout, which led to Hamas rule, rocket fire and war, but still do not care for the settlement project.
Consider the pullout from Gaza four years ago.
On January 2005, half a year prior to the Gaza pullout, officers warned an army general that “many” of the soldiers will refuse to participate in evacuation. Rabbis predicted that “hundreds” of soldiers will disobey.
But this never happened. A couple of soldiers protested or disobeyed, but most did obey orders and did carry out the plan. They did it back then, and most will do it again if the government reaches the conclusion that evacuation is necessary.
And settler leaders, more than most other people, understand this. Thus, what we see today is another desperate attempt with a failed tactic.
A sign of weakness on the part of radical settlers — not strength.