Rally Round the Leader

Haaretz poll: 52 percent of Israelis satisfied with performance of PM Netanyahu; 59 percent support maritime blockade of Gaza.

Good news is a rare commodity in the Prime Minister's Bureau these days. So Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will undoubtedly be pleased with the results of a poll conducted earlier this week on the fallout of the flotilla affair.

The Haaretz-Dialog poll, under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs of the department of statistics at Tel Aviv University, was conducted more than a week after the raid on a flotilla of Gaza-bound ships by Israeli naval commandos that left nine dead.

Alongside a few critical comments about the government, the bottom line is unequivocal: The people stand with their leader.

Amos Biderman

Satisfaction with the prime minister's performance, which showed a decline recently, shot up in the new poll to above 50 percent. The public apparently buys Netanyahu's narrative, which seems to suggest that the world is hypocritical, that we are the only just people, and that whoever is not with him - with Netanyahu - is against Israel.

The maritime blockade of Gaza, whose efficiency has been questioned by many experts and ministers, has sweeping support, with 59 percent of respondents saying it does more good than harm.

Fully 57 percent of those polled said they trusted the ministerial forum of seven, which came under fire in the past week, and trust it even more now. Only 37 percent did not trust the forum of seven in the past and now, following the flotilla episode, trust it even less.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who criticized the government just days after the flotilla operation, was punished by the public for her ostensible lack of patriotism. In a poll two months ago, Livni had a slightly positive rating: 45 percent were satisfied with her performance, 43 percent were not. In the present poll, 50 percent say they are not satisfied, against 35 percent who say they are.

"We are no longer at war; there was an operation and it is over," Livni said this week. She was right, but also wrong. As far as the public goes, nothing is over. There is one piece of good news for Livni, however: Even when she pays the price of the public's wrath, her party, Kadima, hardly loses any seats in the poll, compared to its present strength in the Knesset.

Eighty percent of those polled say they think MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad ) should be punished in some way - the suggested punishments range from stripping her of Israeli citizenship to something more symbolic - for participating in the flotilla.

Of those polled, 41 percent said they are concerned that Israel is becoming an isolated state, while 52 percent thought it was not, despite international condemnation, and growing boycotts of Israeli goods abroad.

The public is conservative in its attitude toward the Gaza blockade, and a slight majority are against a commission of inquiry. Of the 44 percent who would like to see a investigative panel, 60 percent say foreign observers should participate.

Support for the government line translated into personal support for the prime minister and even for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Since assuming his post, Lieberman has always had a sizable negative rating. Now, for the first time, there is a tie (44 percent ) between his supporters and his detractors.

The big winner in the public sweepstakes should have been Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But as compared with previous polls, support for Barak is down among voters who traditionally backed him - those in Labor and Kadima. In this poll, his only genuine fans are from the Likud.

Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu constitute the political-security top echelon. Why, then, does Netanyahu gain, while Barak is trashed? Maybe because the public has had its fill of him. Maybe because people don't like his beef with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who, despite his dominant role in the failed operation at sea, continues to enjoy sky-high ratings.

Ashkenazi remains a Teflon army chief, just as Barak was 17 years ago.

In the middle of the week, Barak delivered his maiden speech to the 18th Knesset. He volunteered - or perhaps was sent by the prime minister - to respond to the no-confidence motion submitted by opposition leader Tzipi Livni.

Barak's speech was hawkish and very aggressive. He did not hesitate to squabble with Kadima, even though he was supposed to be talking about security. The speech demonstrated how deeply Barak is connected to this government with every fiber of his being. He and Netanyahu are conjoined by an alliance that is based on their recognition of their own self-worth being greater than anyone around them.

Usually, when Netanyahu must be present in the chamber, he does not bother listening to others' speeches. He transforms his attendance into quality time - reading books, perusing documents or huddling with ministers who make pilgrimage to him one after the other. On Monday, though, he kept his eyes peeled on Barak throughout the defense minister's address. Netanyahu looked at Barak as his No. 1 soldier.

Labor's losses

Barak's Labor Party would gain eight seats in an election, according to the new poll (five less than its current Knesset representation ), three more than its lost sister, Meretz. If another new player appears on the political map, Labor will become a museum piece. All that will remain of it is Beit Berl College and the immortal declaration of the party's former secretary general, Ra'anan Cohen, which deserves to be engraved on Labor's tombstone: "The party won!"

Barak's authority in the party is gradually being eroded. Last week, his confidant, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, came out openly against him by vigorously supporting the establishment of an international commission of inquiry into the flotilla operation. Barak didn't like it, but gritted his teeth.

Another Barak confidant, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, who is still waiting to be appointed chairman of the Jewish National Fund, recently warned the party leader that ministers Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman are planning to resign from the government in October on the way to contesting the party's leadership.

According to Simhon's scenario, in that event, none of the Labor MKs will want to replace the two ministers, and the whole business will simply disintegrate. Barak refuses to believe that Herzog is capable of resigning. He is probably wrong.

Bogey's silence

It always happens to Moshe (Bogey ) Ya'alon. The vice prime minister shows up at a closed meeting, usually a right-wing panel - he feels most comfortable in their company - speaks freely and openly, and without fail what he says leaks out, not always accurately, and he finds himself enmeshed in a tangled web of denials, explanations and justifications.

What Ya'alon said at the beginning of the week in a meeting with Likud council heads from the territories was not all that shocking. He praised the naval commandos (de rigueur these days ) and noted that "just as we need to award citations, we need to examine the battle procedure."

A reasonable remark, if it did not emanate from the only one of the magnificent seven who has refrained from speaking to the press since the flotilla incident.

Ya'alon's lengthy and thunderous silence creates the impression that he is frustrated that the septet is not made privy to secret operations, which are decided upon between Netanyahu and Barak. In addition, Ya'alon is considered the central suspect among his colleagues in the cabinet and in the party behind the grumbling, which was made public, to the effect that the forum of seven was not updated by the defense minister and the chief of staff about the minute details of the operation, thereby preventing the forum members from asking the right questions. Netanyahu on the one side, and Barak on the other, are giving him nasty looks.

Ya'alon's relations with Barak are usually strained: Barak took the defense portfolio from him at the last minute. The feelings toward Ya'alon in the Likud Knesset faction are evident from remarks made by Minister without Portfolio Yossi Peled at the faction's meeting this week. When his turn to speak came, Peled, who is always among the first to arrive at the meetings and has to wait a long time for Netanyahu, said, "There are some among us who don't understand the meaning of a minimum of collegiality. They brief journalists after meetings of the forum of seven and tell them what happened and what did not happen. I suggest that those people should not hide behind a cloak of anonymity. If they have something to say, let them say it aloud, with no fear. There is no need to behave like Bugs Bunny, no need to shoot from the tank inside" (that is, to attack ourselves ).

Peled is now one of the ministers closest to Barak.The defense minister frequently consults with him. The expression "to shoot from the armored personnel carrier inside" is one of the defense minister's favorite terms. He often uses it when referring to party rivals. Peled was a tank man, so the modification is understandable and logical.

Keep Dayan away

What happens to former members of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit who retire from the army as major generals or after serving as chief of staff? Uzi Dayan, a major general in the reserves, a former deputy chief of staff, has wandered among us for years, frustrated by his failure to be elected to the Knesset.

He's tried twice, once as the head of an independent party, once in the Likud, and failed twice. Formerly a man of the moderate left, a glorious offspring of Mapai - Labor's forerunner - and Israel's famous Dayan dynasty, who was Barak's candidate to succeed him as chief of staff, Dayan has in the past couple of years drifted to the far right of the Israeli political map.

This week he told Army Radio that if Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes good on his threat to sail to Gaza aboard a Turkish navy vessel, "Israel should treat this as a declaration of war and sink the ship. Not seize it - sink it."

It's hard to grasp that someone who was a candidate to be a minister in the Netanyahu government espouses that view, and even harder to believe that he expresses it aloud.

One Thursday morning a month ago, someone saw Dayan sitting in the waiting area outside the Prime Minister's Bureau in the defense headquarters in Tel Aviv holding a file folder. A few members of the forum of seven emerged from the next room at the conclusion of another important discussion. Dayan spotted Ehud Barak heading quickly down the hall to the exit, rushed after him with the file folder and delayed him for a few minutes. Dayan then met with Netanyahu for about 20 minutes - we will never know about what.

If these are the views Dayan is voicing to the prime minister, maybe it would be best to ask the dozens of guards who surround Netanyahu at every moment to prevent Dayan from entering his bureau next time.

Like father, like grandson

Last Sunday evening, viewers of Channel 10 were asked to put on 3-D glasses made of cardboard and plastic to watch a reality show. The result was blurry, irritating and smeared in unnatural colors. But here and there a dimension of depth was added to the picture, even at the price of causing viewers slight dizziness.

Maybe special glasses should be invented for the viewers of the Friday evening news-magazine on Channel 2. Those glasses would present the "national anchor" Yair Lapid in the right light and color: not an impartial journalist but a politician in disguise, who at an election rally in Herzliya this week declared with pathos: "We will write a constitution, we will change the system of government, we will restore to the circle those communities that have cut themselves off."

He announced this after asking, "Are we capable of limiting the number of cabinet ministers by law, of drafting Haredim, of getting out of the territories?"

Writing a constitution and changing the system of government is child's play for Yair Lapid. Getting out of the territories is a tiny bit more complicated. Lapid has the right to run for the Knesset, but he said nothing that does not appear in the Kadima platform, apart from a puzzling comment about the need to shut down Army Radio.

The recording of Lapid's remarks that was broadcast by Israel Radio reporter Yoav Karkovsky this week revealed what everyone already knew: that Yair Lapid is eager to follow in his father's footsteps and become the next Tommy Lapid.

In a meeting he held, he lamented the absence of a "responsible adult" and said with self-righteousness that he would not have embarked "on this journey" had he not promised his son, Yoav, a better country.

It used to be "my son, Yair," but now it looks like we're going to hear a lot about "my son, Yoav."