Of masterstrokes and apoplectic strokes

Netanyahu has strengthened his hand significantly but not for the reasons spouted by the left

Netanyahu has every reason to be pleased with himself
Emanuele Ottolenghi
On 9 May 2012 09:27

Israel's left had an apoplectic stroke when, on Tuesday morning, it woke up to the news that Shaul Mofaz' Kadima faction was joining the coalition to form a national unity government - and that elections were off.

Ha'aretz's Amir Oren hyperbolically stated that the deal "broke the record for cynical agreements, one which had held since the August 1939 Molotov-Ribberntrop agreement between Russia and Germany."

Labour leader, Shelly Yachimovich, thundered that 'no one will forget this trick' - a clear reference to the worst chapter of recent Israeli political history when, in 1990, a political volte-face punished Shimon Peres for abandoning the unity government of which he was then finance minister. Yair Lapid – the rising political star-in-waiting of Israeli politics labelled the affair, 'a disgusting alliance'.

No one can blame them for their hysteria - Netanyahu's surprise move, in a masterstroke, cleared the entire political minefield ahead and will enable him to consolidate his party's prominence in Israeli politics.

By bringing Mofaz into the fold Netanyahu strengthened the secular flank of his coalition, thereby defusing the time bomb of the looming battle over drafting until-now-exempted Yeshiva students. This leverage works both ways - against Avigdor Lieberman on settlements, against Shas on the draft.

He also neutralised any potential threat to his political strength from the centre - he took the spotlight off Lapid's party, making sure that, over the next 18 months, this political amateur loses his appeal and the public loses its interest. He smashed any hopes of a left comeback - at least for another year and a half. And by extending a lifeline to Kadima's sinking ship, he has begun a process of swallowing it back into Likud and improving his own party's chances to triumph when elections are finally called.

True, anything can happen in 18 months - but as things look now, it can only get worse for Netanyahu's adversaries.

This, and not foreign policy, is the driving motive for the prime minister's brilliant outmanoeuvring of his adversaries. Last week, many left-wing pundits pontificated that Netanyahu sought early elections to exploit the run-up to the November U.S. presidential elections and launch a pre-emptive military strike against Iran between September 4 and November 6, while U.S. President Obama would be least inclined to stand in the way.

Now, while erstwhile proponents of a new October Surprise theory eat humble pie (a rare dish on the left), others are arguing that, by bringing Kadima into the coalition, Netanyahu is now ready to attack.

No doubt, Netanyahu's new partnership with Kadima will help quell the on-going security pensioners' revolt first launched by former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. A Unity Government also deflates many international arguments against the hawkishness of Israel's government and discourages any future temptations by the current U.S. Administration to prop up Kadima as a 'Netanyahu antidote'.

The bottom line though, as hard as it may sound to those always inclined to see sinister ploys behind political manoeuvres, is that the choice of an election date never had anything to do with the timing of an attack against Iran and that remains the case.

Netanyahu has strengthened his hand significantly - whether he attacks Iran at all depends on intelligence estimates, the pace of diplomacy and Iran's nuclear progress. But if he decides to attack, this new political constellation will enable his government to absorb the fallout much more effectively.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and the author of The Pasdaran: Inside Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards' Corps (FDD Press: September 2011)

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