Steinitz, left, and Netanyahu
Steinitz, left, and Netanyahu. Higher income taxes will help pay for lower gasoline taxes. Photo by Alon Ron
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be bewitched by the number eight. Or is he, perhaps, alarmed?

NIS 8 for a liter of 95-octane gasoline - the highest gas price on record (at least for now ). Eight P.M. - the time of the nightly TV news. Adding these two numbers together for a double-octet could be devastating for a politician who fears the growing rumblings of a frustrated public, especially with Knesset elections drawing nigh.

The response was a frightened U-turn just before the news broadcast Saturday night, and a move to reduce the anticipated price hike by three quarters, so that gasoline prices would stop at eight. Gas prices had been expected to rise by 20 agorot a liter, but Netanyahu decided instead to raise the price by only 5 agorot - meaning a liter of 95-octane gas will now cost NIS 8 at full-service pumps.

In the two days since Saturday night's about-turn, those responsible for the decision to reduce the price hike have made various excuses. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz denied that the decision had been made "at ten minutes to 8" and said it was only the announcement that came shortly before the 8 P.M. news. Netanyahu took advantage of the mute media, which documents his speeches at the opening of cabinet sessions without any embarrassing questions, to explain that the price hike was necessary in order to buy more Iron Dome batteries.

The implication is that whoever objects to raising the price of gasoline is a villain who would allow rockets to be fired at civilians, as long as he can fill up for cheap. But if this is so, why did Netanyahu make do with a quarter of the increase he had planned? And why did he give up the required taxation to finance the expenses? Why didn't he outline in advance an adequate security budget to buy rocket interceptors that would protect all of Israel, without waiting for American favors that restrict the independence and sovereignty he boasts of?

The gas and its NIS 8 price tag, which Israelis may yet long for if the regional and global tension with Iran increases, are but a metaphor for Netanyahu's feeble leadership. Every month, when it comes time for the customary update on gasoline prices, the prime minister is shocked to find that the dial is moving ever upward.

This is not a sudden Shahab missile attack; it is merely an act of arithmetic that can be offset by reducing taxes. But this is how the cabinet weighs and decides. Then again, calling the cabinet's summations "deciding" is a misnomer. A more accurate description of the cabinet's actions might be something along the lines of "talking" or "panicking."

It's not the gasoline price that Israelis should be concerned about, but rather those who decide on it.

Read this article in Hebrew