Bennett Went Out on a Limb in His Challenge to Netanyahu. He Should Have Been More Modest

One of Netanyahu’s main tasks was and still is to neutralize and miniaturize any potential heir. A brief survey over the years shows that he has accomplished this mission with considerable success

Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, October 15, 2017.
Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP

Naftali Bennett took a frenzied leap at the post of defense minister and his confidants say his ultimatum – that unless he receives the defense portfolio he’ll quit the cabinet and let the most radical rightist government ever to rule here fall apart – is iron cast.

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Bennett has gone out on a limb, they say, and when he sets his sights on something, like on the Justice Ministry in the 2015 coalition negotiations, it’s hard, even impossible, to budge him.

Besides, they say, the prime minister took a harsh blow on the right, and holding elections over what his voters see as a humiliating defeat to Hamas are at this stage a horrific event for him. “It will be hard for him to stabilize the boat,” one of his rivals gloated.

However, before Habayit Hayehudi and Netanyahu’s other rivals celebrate the old fox’s weakness, they should learn a lesson in modesty. Netanyahu made the most important, correct decision for Israel this week, although it was not to the liking of his rightist electorate, which was educated by Netanyahu the oppositionist. At the end of this problematic week he still maintains a wondrous bank of close to 30 Knesset seats. Netanyahu was right. His political capital as a super-leader enabled him, despite the harsh criticism and heavy pressures, to make a worthy if unpopular decision.

One of Netanyahu’s main tasks was and still is to neutralize and miniaturize any potential heir. A brief survey over the years shows that he has accomplished this mission with considerable success. Moshe Yaalon was treated with respect and affection in Likud for a certain period. But although he was seen as a potential heir to Netanyahu, the latter sacrificed him with one swipe of the sword out of political considerations and threw his corpse to the Sharon Gals in the Elor Azaria affair.

He sent Yair Lapid in 2013 to look for the money as finance minister, and within 20 months he tarnished the charm of the new, attractive boy on the block.

Netanyahu brings even the readily smiling Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon down from the 11 Knesset seats he gained in the elections to around 7-8 seats on a good day, according to current polls. And of course, the latest example – Avigdor Lieberman, who blurted out the fallacious idiocy that if he were defense minister, he’d wipe out Ismail Haniyeh within 48 hours. Netanyahu brought him into the IDF headquarters at Tel Aviv’s Kirya for a public humiliation. So Bennett should seriously consider if he really wants to be decapitated in the Kirya like his predecessors.

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Netanyahu took a big punch on the right, his coalition is fragile and shaky, but his downfall is mainly wishful thinking on the part of his enemies. There is no scenario, except an indictment for serious bribery, that would herald the end of his rule, whether by some political maneuver or by election. All those who rejoiced over the Ari Harow and Orna Peretz affairs and the other milestones when he looked like he was finished should listen less to their hearts’ desires and more to Likud voters.

If there’s any consolation for Netanyahu-haters on the left, it’s his and the entire right’s painful encounter with reality, and the collapse of the liquidate-destroy-subdue doctrine. A cursed war of choice could have led to a situation that jeopardized Netanyahu’s endless rule. But even if his interest in forcing a cease-fire was selfish and politically motivated, Israel was spared days of horror and sadness, air-raid sirens and confinement in underground shelters and protected rooms, from slain soldiers, economic paralysis and a fascist spirit of the kind that rises from the gutters when things get rough. (Not to mention the lives of several hundreds, if not thousands, of wretched Gaza residents, but who counts them?) For this, as difficult as it may be, he should be praised.