It was only a matter of time before the first attack of Elections 2006. That's how it will be remembered, and it will doubtless not be the last.
The campaign headquarters of Labor, Likud and Kadima are preparing for every scenario: security calm, a smattering of attacks, waves of terror or total security collapse. The candidates' strategists will provide an appropriate response to each scenario. The accepted wisdom is this: A lull in attacks plays in the favor of Amir Peretz by permitting him to highlight his social-economic agenda; escalating violence would likely require a military response and tough talk, allowing Ariel Sharon - Mr. Security - to regain control of the agenda that got away from him a bit and preserve his large advantage in the polls; and total collapse (Qassam rockets on Ashkelon) would enable the Likud, particularly frontrunner Benjamin Netanyahu, to tell voters: "Told you so!"
Politicians spoke in these simplistic terms yesterday. Yet even before this or that scenario had come true, the impact of the Netanya attack on politics was evident. Sharon rushed to cancel a meeting of the Kadima faction scheduled for noon in the Knesset. He preferred to steer clear of the cameras. Perhaps he is unfamiliar with the theory mentioned above.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is in the midst of difficult primaries for the Likud leadership, uncustomarily granted interviews to radio stations. On a day in which Netanyahu cut a political deal with Uzi Landau, and the other candidate, Silvan Shalom, was suspected of availing himself of Omri Sharon's help to take over the Likud, Mofaz reminded Likudniks who their Mr. Security is.
Before this came the Iranian threat. Suddenly, within a matter of days, Sharon introduced the topic, the chief of staff gathered the foreign press corp and a sense of near-hysteria took root in our region. It's no wonder that one of Sharon's associates underscored yesterday, in speaking to reporters, how much "decisions on the Iranian matter are complex and sensitive and complicated, and it's hard to see the inexperienced Amir [Peretz] making them."
A certain discomfort could be felt in Peretz circles yesterday. So long as Arrow missiles are flying and an Iranian threat hovers over every home, who will give a thought to minimum wage? Peretz could do nothing yesterday but keep his head down and wait for this wave to pass. He won't be surprised if his Labor Party loses a few Knesset seats in the next polls, but he is positive that at the end of the day, the scales will be tipped by the same thing that raised him in a single day to the top of Israeli politics: the social gaps.
Meanwhile, all he can do is convene his shadow cabinet for an urgent security consultation: Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Ami Ayalon, Matan Vilnai and Danny Yatom, Aryeh Amit and Ephraim Sneh were rushed in from every corner of the country, to be photographed alongside Peretz, the candidate with the least security background the Labor Party has ever fielded. They sat there, a bunch of battle-scarred tough guys, and discussed the situation. Afterward they stood in a circle and posed for photographers. Anyone who knows Peretz knows how ill at ease he feels in these situations. But he had no choice. I wonder what Shelly Yachimovich would say about that manly gathering, if she weren't in Peretz's party now.
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