As Moshe Ya’alon, a former Netanyahu defense minister and a former army chief of staff, recently told a rally in Tel Aviv: “According to my personal experience as a soldier and commander, if, God forbid, Israel will become a dictatorship, we will not have enough soldiers who will be ready to sacrifice their lives to defend the country, and it will cause an existential threat to the State of Israel. We just have to watch the poor performance of Putin’s armed forces, lacking the spirit and lacking the confidence in their dictator and his path,” to see what dictatorship does to an army.
Finally, both Putin and Netanyahu completely underestimated the speed at which the electronic herd of global investors would stampede out of their countries in the wake of their reckless behavior. According to The Financial Times’s fDi Markets database, last year only 13 foreign direct investment projects were tracked in Russia, “the lowest level since records began in 2003.”
Assaf Rappaport, a co-founder of one of the hottest Israeli start-ups, the $10-billion-valued cloud security firm Wiz, told me over breakfast in Washington that the Israeli tech community “could survive the Palestinian uprisings, suicide bombers and Hamas missiles on Tel Aviv.” But, economically speaking, it “can’t survive” a threat to Israel’s independent judiciary. His foreign investors just told him not to bank his latest funding round, $300 million, in Israel. Going forward, he added, more and more Israeli start-ups will register as Delaware companies, not Israeli ones.
One more similarity that leads to a huge difference. Putin and Netanyahu have both surrounded themselves with yes-men, party hacks and total ciphers — no one with any independent political standing or ethical backbone who can stand up and say: “What are you doing? Stop. This is wrong. Cut your losses.”
But this leads to the one big difference between them.
The world is divided into more than 24 time zones. Russia alone spans 11. Israel fits into one. Putin can afford a long war of attrition in Ukraine, where he never has to admit he was mistaken. He has huge margins for his errors. Israel does not. The wisest Israeli leaders have always understood that they need to carefully guard their resources and bond with their allies — through not only shared interests but also shared values.
Yet Netanyahu’s extremist coalition is now taking on the Palestinians and Iran militarily while ignoring the wishes and values of its most important ally, the U.S. government; its most important diaspora community, American Jews; and its most important source of economic growth, foreign investors. And it’s doing all of that while dividing the Israeli people to the brink of a civil war.
It’s madness. Or, to put it differently: Russia can survive a leader who plays Russian roulette. Israel may not.