Israel's Election Clouds Are Gathering, Forcing Netanyahu to Act

Yossi Verter
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Yossi Verter

Benjamin Netanyahu has been there and done that, yet once again he is now facing a line-up of challengers with strong defense credentials, as he did in the 1999 elections.

Thirteen years ago he contended not only against Ehud Barak, who defeated him, but against his defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai, who had quit his cabinet, outgoing Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon. They all ganged up against him and announced at every opportunity they had that Netanyahu was not to be trusted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Likud primary, January 31, 2012.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Thirteen years later none of those men remain in the political arena except Netanyahu, who is prime minister for the second time around and Barak, who has shifted from the attacker's position to the attacked.

Yet once again, as Netanyahu asks for the public's confidence in the run-up to the elections, he faces a concerted, hostile, relentless choir of ex-defense officials. These consist of former Mossad, IDF and Shin Bet chiefs - Meir Dagan, Gabi Ashkenazi and, as of Friday, Yuval Diskin.

Diskin appeared at a meeting of defense establishment pensioners in Kfar Sava contrived to be spontaneous and impromptu, filmed with an amateur's camera. If Diskin's comments had not been so scathing and alarming they would have been funny.

He called Netanyahu and Barak "the messianics of Akirov and Assuta, Caesarea and Gaza Street." That was uncalled for. What has real estate got to do with performance and policy? One could expect a man like Diskin to be more businesslike, rational and choose a more appropriate stage than the "Majdi forum" in Kfar Sava.

Why has Diskin kept quiet for a whole year? Perhaps he sentenced himself to a voluntary cooling-off period. Or maybe it's to do with the impending elections. Diskin's statements will reverberate in the Knesset in the next few days, as the three opposition party leaders raise motions to disperse the Knesset and advance the elections.

Netanyahu will have to make a difficult decision. He must either support the proposals and begin talks on an agreed election date, or thwart the proposals, making it clear he wants elections only at the beginning of 2013.

To carry out the second option Netanyahu will need his coalition partners. Yesterday he found that the most important one, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, is already careening gleefully on a collision course otherwise known as the alternative Tal Law.

"On May 9, after we raise our proposal to enlist everyone, we'll know what the election date is," Lieberman asserted yesterday on Channel 2's "Meet the Press."

He also said his obligation to the coalition was over. In other words, Lieberman is giving Netanyahu a choice - either support us in the Knesset and burn the bridges with your ultra-Orthodox partners, or go against us, and I will bring about early elections.

This is the dilemma Netanyahu is facing this week. On the one hand, it's difficult. On the other hand, it is easy. As far as political matters go, Netanyahu has not been one to take the initiative. He has been dragged along. This is his chance to take the reins, go to the Knesset and announce, as Ehud Barak did in the winter of 2000: "Do you want elections? I'm ready for elections" - and hope the outcome is different.

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