Israel's New, Post-election Agenda: First the ultra-Orthodox, Then Iran

Now that the votes are mostly in, a strike on Iran looks less likely, while conscription for Haredim seems closer than ever.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

In the past decades, the general understanding on the political scene was that Israeli elections are determined, above all, by voters’ sense of personal security. Apparently, however, the 2013 elections are different. Four years of relative calm did not help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Neither did his implied threats that the Iranian bomb is approaching and the Arab Spring is out there raging.

Many voters took advantage of the calm to vote according to what really bothered them: their economic situation, the social gaps, the fact that some Israelis bear the burden of the military and taxation while others do not, and a sense of just being plain fed up with the existing regime.

Based on the vote counts overnight Tuesday, it looks like Netanyahu will move as far as possible from establishing a new coalition of the right and the ultra-Orthodox ‏(even if, after the soldiers’ votes are added to the toll, it is revealed that he could create such a coalition‏).

The reasonable assumption now is that the coalition will be based on Likud and Yair Lapid’s new party, Yesh Atid, with one or two parties from the center-left bloc and perhaps Habayit Hayehudi to Netanyahu’s right.

There is a practical opportunity here for Netanyahu to do what he promised, on that strange night less than a year ago, when he brought Kadima and its leader MK Shaul Mofaz into his coalition: change the system of government, and, first and foremost, find a solution to the dispute over drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the army.

The Tal Law, which allowed ultra-Orthodox to postpone military service, already lapsed last summer. The law that supposedly organizes the draft is the old military service law, whereby the ultra-Orthodox are also supposed to be conscripted. Thus far, 3,000 out of the 8,000 ultra-Orthodox who supposedly should be conscripted have received their first call-up notice and reported. But in actuality, not a single one of them has been conscripted. The army has begun to put the process into effect but is still waiting to implement it in accordance with instructions that will come after the election.

If indeed an alternative arrangement is formulated − something between the Plesner committee proposal and Yair Lapid’s platform − the meaning will be a revolution in conscription, a change that the ultra-Orthodox rabbis have promised to fight with all the means at their disposal. This is going to be one of the first challenges the Netanyahu-Lapid coalition will come up against, on the assumption that it arises.

Moreover, as of Wednesday morning, an attack on Iran no longer appears inevitable. For four years the prime minister has been swearing to eliminate the Iranian threat, by force if necessary. Netanyahu had the opportunity to do so last summer, as well as both of the summers before that, but each time he caved in to pressures from both Israel’s top political echelon ‏(the Israel Defense Forces and the Mossad‏) and the American administration. His desire for political survival turned out to be more important to him.

Now, with a coalition that will squint toward the center, it seems the chances of an Israeli attack, one that is not coordinated with the Americans, are shrinking significantly. In the Iranian context, even though you won’t catch anyone among the top brass in the IDF admitting it out loud, you can bet that at the general staff there were many sighs of relief as the election results came in.

The army will still have other problems: The combination of a serious budget deficit and a government with a civil agenda will, for the first time, pose a significant threat to the defense’s coffers. Some of the generals’ dreams about purchasing costly weapons systems will have to be put on hold.

And there remains another small matter, a personnel matter − the identity of the next defense minister. Current Defense Minister Ehud Barak lowered his profile and waited patiently for the outcome of the election in the hopes that Netanyahu would keep him on at the Defense Ministry as a professional appointment. But going into the coalition negotiations, Netanyahu isn’t holding the best cards. It is doubtful he will take the time to consider his veteran partner’s interests in addition to his own. Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe ‏(Bogie‏) Ya’alon is qualified for the job and would give his right arm for it.

But it is by no means certain that the prime minister wants to help build up Ya’alon’s status as a future heir. What is perfectly clear, however, is that the other contenders in Likud would not take to this kindly, so his chances seem quite limited at this time.

If indeed Kadima does cross the finish line and make it into the Knesset, it’s likely that Mofaz’s name will once again get tossed around for the job. In fact, his political weakness could well beguile Netanyahu. The defense portfolio does not look like a first priority of Yesh Atid. Presumably the foreign affairs and education portfolios beckon Lapid more. On his slate there is no high-profile defense personality ‏(hey, it turns out it is indeed possible to succeed at the ballot box even without generals‏).

Now we can talk about another person who lost in this election: Former Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. ‏(res.‏) Moshe Kaplinsky. Had he accepted the generous offers of a place near the top of Lapid’s slate a few months ago, it appears that today he would be a prime candidate for the next minister of defense.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Mea She'arim.Credit: Eitan Hochster
An ultra-Orthodox man casts his vote in Tuesday's elections.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Hatnuah chairwoman Tzipi Livni reacts to the exit polls, Jan. 22, 2012.
Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich delivers a speech, January 22, 2013.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv.
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Hatnuah chairwoman Tzipi Livni reacts to the exit polls, Jan. 22, 2012.Credit: Moti Milrod
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Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich delivers a speech, January 22, 2013. Credit: AFP
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv. Credit: Reuters
Israeli parties react to exit polls

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