Netanyahu's first campaign ad
Netanyahu's press conference - with the high production value, the pyrotechnics and the focus on the improved economic situation - were meant to counter two main threats on his agenda – renewed social protests and the possibility of early elections.
A new and sophisticated briefing room, sketches on a tablet, an animated movie, an impressive slideshow and a happier-than-ever Benjamin Netanyahu were all part of the show produced by the prime minister's office on Tuesday, to mark three years since the government took office. "I am not going to call for early elections… I am not afraid of the social protests," Netanyahu said, but the pyrotechnics and the focus on socioeconomic issues illustrated that he is, without a doubt, preparing.
Netanyahu looked his best: calm, smiling and at times even arrogant. At a certain point he even took note of the warm weather expected during Passover. "I propose you go out and have fun," he said. "Remember the expression – we have a great country… and there are also less traffic jams."
Netanyahu, a prime minister who does not own a computer and does not send text messages from his cellular phone, was as excited about drawing on the iPad as a child who receives a toy for Passover. Instead of his famous triangle, Netanyahu drew a tree, which he likened to the state of Israel. "Summing up three years, this tree is extraordinarily stable. It's growing, it's yielding fruit," Netanyahu said upon completing the illustration, which also included small apples hanging from the branches.
Later, Netanyahu counted the fruit. Free education beginning at the age of three, erecting a barrier on the border with Egypt, reducing unemployment, constructing interchanges and railroads to connect the periphery to central Israel, setting up an anti-cyber terror task force, and more. For some of these things Netanyahu definitely deserves credit; however, some of them are still in their initial stages if at all.
For example, it is still unclear whether on September 1 parents will send their children to kindergarten free-of-charge, and a large part of the interchanges and trail tracks – allotted an huge budget of 25 billion shekels – are still in the planning stages. Concerning the anti-cyber terror task force, out of a planned budget of 500 million shekels for five years, only an initial start-up project of five million shekels was left. That is also the reason why Brig. Gen. (res. )Yair Cohen, former head of unit 8200, the IDF's central military intelligence unit – who was Netanyahu's first choice for head of the task force – ran back to the private sector before his appointment was approved by the government.
Netanyahu used the press conference not only to demand the public credit he believes the media is not giving him, but also to compliment fellow party members. Netanyahu didn't forget to praise, caress and flatter t all of the Likud ministers - Yisrael Katz for paving highways, Gilad Erdan for developing parks and reserves, Moshe Kahlon for lowering cellular phone costs and even deputy ministers Gila Gamliel and Leah Ness.
In the second part of his opening monologue, Netanyahu presented four security threats – Iran's nuclear program, missiles and rockets, unsecured borders and cyber-warfare. Yet it seems that the first part was meant to counter two other threats – the likely scenario of renewed social protests after Independence Day and the possibility of early election being called in the fall.
Netanyahu said he was attentive to the cries and calls of the citizens of Israel. "I'm not worried about the protests," he said. "I'm not discounting the real problems, which we're solving; the summer protests were about real problem in housing and prices of staples, but there are also other problems and I am attentive and mean to take care of them."
Despite the fact that Netanyahu appeared on Tuesday in what was essentially a one-hour, live campaign ad, he repeatedly denied that elections are near. "I do not intent to call for early elections," he said. "Perhaps others want this, but I'm not planning it."
Netanyahu may have declared he is not preparing for elections, yet from his speech it is clear that the main talking points for engaging his rivals, Kadima's Shaul Mofaz and Labor's Shelly Yachimovich, are already prepared. Despite rocky relationships with U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jordan's King Abdullah, Netanyahu claimed that his advantage over his two contenders lies in his conduct in the international arena. "I respect Shaul Mofaz and Shelly Yachimovich and anyone who want to enter politics," he said. "As someone with 30 years of experience – to lead Israel one must know how to act in the international field. We're not in an isolated bubble. The leader will be decided by the Israeli public."
The blog of Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent, taking a deeper look behind the scenes of Israeli politics and foreign policy.