Unlike other critical areas, the departure of Yesh Atid and Hatnuah ministers will have no effect on security affairs. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s few remaining political stalwarts, will stay on board at least until the March 17 election.
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Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who clashed with Ya’alon throughout the Gaza war, has made no secret of his ambition to succeed Ya’alon after the vote. In any case, Ya’alon managed, after intense pressure, to pry a joint statement out of Netanyahu on the appointment of Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot as the Israel Defense Forces’ next chief of staff.
Still, the upcoming campaign is likely to pose a number of problems linked to defense — the main one being the budget. The coalition between Netanyahu and ministers Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni fell apart amid a total lack of faith between the prime minister and the other parties’ top people, on top of a general disgust with Netanyahu’s long rule.
But one of the prime minister’s main claims — also one of the five demands he made of Lapid Monday night — involves the defense budget. The two could not agree on the size of additional defense spending following the Gaza war, and on what these funds would cover.
The dispute had already led Ya’alon to freeze the plan to move IDF bases to the Negev. If new funding isn’t transferred before the election, the 2015 budget will resemble the previous year’s, and the military, which hasn’t had a multiyear plan for the past four years, won’t be able to plan ahead until the new government is installed.
Another problem could develop in relations with the Palestinians. Intelligence agencies already consider a conflagration in the West Bank highly likely next year in light of the frozen peace process and the Palestinian Authority’s plans at international agencies. An election campaign in which Netanyahu fights Bennett and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for right-wing votes is asking for trouble, and a narrow right-wing government ruling until the election might declare further construction in the territories.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu will avoid economic gestures to the Palestinians in the West Bank so as not to appear soft before the election.
A particularly disturbing problem involves the events of last summer. In recent months the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has been scrutinizing many aspects of the war against Hamas. This was already a fraught political issue considering the war’s mixed outcome; Israel did not defeat — actually did not try to defeat — Hamas.
The subcommittees have already done much of the work, but their reports have not yet been drawn up. Now they probably won’t be published at all. Will opposition legislators like Eitan Cabel (Labor), Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) and, from this week, Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) sign off on a report acceptable to the chairman of the committee – and the governing coalition — Likud’s Zeev Elkin?
The most sensitive chapter, politically speaking, involves that functioning of the prime minister, the defense minister and the inner cabinet. It’s hard to imagine Elkin, under the new circumstances, pushing through a document that criticizes Netanyahu’s actions against Hamas.
The damage won’t be limited to a lack of scrutiny of the cabinet and its decisions. Other parts of the probe will go down the drain such as those on the intelligence agencies’ functioning and the IDF’s strength before the war.
Investigation of the war is too serious to be left to the IDF alone, but it now appears the politicians will be too busy to lend a hand.