Were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's acerbic statements about Defense Minister Ehud Barak made in the framework of a political spin? Political circles Wednesday morning viewed the “crisis” as a deliberate pre-planned maneuver by the pair to improve Barak's standing in public opinion polls and enhance the joint post-election strength of their two respective parties, Likud and Atzmaut.
According to the assessments, positioning Barak in opposition to Netanyahu is designed to help him draw support from center-left voters.
The Defense Ministry denies the existence of any rift between Barak and Netanyahu, saying that working relations between the two are continuing as usual.
Zehava Gal-On, the Meretz leader, said this morning: “Tensions between the duo of the prime minister and defense minister are coordinated and staged in advance of forthcoming elections, so that Barak can run on the Atzmaut ticket as though he is working in opposition to Netanyahu, thereby taking votes from the center-left bloc.
But immediately after the election, Barak will fall into Netanyahu's waiting arms, and together with [Labor leader Shelly] Yacimovich and [Yesh Atid party-to-be leader Yair] Lapid crawl into a Netanyahu government.”
She continued: “Make no mistake. Relations between the prime minister and the defense minister are deep and close. Reports of a rift between the two demonstrate their deep disrespect to the intelligence of the public.”
A senior Likud source who is close to Netanyahu confirmed that the basis of the public confrontation was the desire to differentiate between the two, enabling Barak and his party to pass 2 percent of the popular vote, the threshold needed for a party to enter the Knesset:
“If the defense minister was not functioning according to Netanyahu's expectations, he would be fired. The truth is that there is professional harmony between them. It became important for Barak to recruit center-left votes to pass the electoral threshold, after he realized that he had no chance of getting a guaranteed place on the Likud Knesset list. To Netanyahu, on the other hand, it's important to put some distance between himself and Barak, who is seen as the settlers' enemy, the leader of the move to freeze settlement and the one who deliberately delayed designation of the Ariel college as a full university,” he said.
According to the senior source, “the maneuver is beneficial to both of them, and they will resume their cooperation after the elections.”
Confidants of both leaders hurled accusations at each other in radio interviews this morning. In a Kol Yisrael interview Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, a Netanyahu ally, accused Barak of undermining the prime minister. Katz said that it would be appropriate for Netanyahu to fire the defense minister, except for the impending elections “in which the public will decide.”
In contrast Minister Shalom Simhon, a Barak supporter, attacked Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, calling him “Netanyahu's poodle.” “Israel doesn't have a finance minister,” Simhon told Army Radio, “but a poodle who does his master's bidding and is sent each time on a different errand. Every generation has its own poodle.”
The episode proves that Netanyahu's government has reached the end of the line, suffering from “continued internaal bleeding,” Labor MK Yitzhak Herzog told Kol Yisrael.
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