Habayit Hayehudi’s War

The real danger is the possibility that the right-wing party gave in on Netanyahu’s political demands so he would meet its hard-line military demands on Gaza

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Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at a press conference at the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 19, 2018.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at a press conference at the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 19, 2018.Credit: Emil Salman
Haaretz Editorial

It looks like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put out the political fire that started when Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his resignation. On Monday, the day after the press conference where Netanyahu begged his friends to stay in the government for patriotic reasons due to special security circumstances, Habayit Hayehudi chief Naftali Bennett gave in and withdrew his demand to become defense minister as a condition for staying in the government.

Netanyahu trapped Education Minister Bennett and the No. 2 in his party, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, when he depicted the security situation as urgent. He used the full arsenal of scaremongering: He said “we are in a particularly complex security situation,” and at times like these you don’t call an election. He reprimanded his friends who were “playing politics” and sought to topple the government “in the middle of a battle.”

To maintain the integrity of his government, Netanyahu even scared the public and said that tough times were ahead. He cited sensitive information that he couldn’t share, adding that everyone would have to make sacrifices.

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The maneuver succeeded: Bennett and Shaked decided not to resign. But there’s a strong suspicion that to prevent the toppling of the government, Netanyahu and Bennett will now try to “prove” to Israelis that Netanyahu’s words on the security situation weren’t empty and that Bennett was let in on the secret and therefore showed some responsibility.

Netanyahu’s worrisome security assessment doesn’t conform with several facts. The outgoing defense minister said outright there is no truth to the suggestions that Israel is on the brink of war for reasons unknown to the voters; defense officials haven’t discerned any dramatic change in recent weeks. And if Israel is “in the middle of a battle,” how is it that two weeks ago Netanyahu was thinking about moving up the election? And why does he brag about Israel’s wonderful strategic situation?

But the possibility that there’s no urgent security danger, but rather the prime minister falsely depicted the situation so he could manipulate his ministers, is very small consolation for Israelis. The real danger lies in the possibility that Habayit Hayehudi’s chiefs gave in on Netanyahu’s political demands so that he would meet their military demands.

According to Bennett, Netanyahu promised the public in his speech he would “change direction” on the security front. Bennett disagreed with the Gaza cease-fire; everyone knows where he wants security policy to go. The political combination of events, which was meant to ensure the prime minister’s survival, mustn’t turn into an excuse for the next war – Habayit Hayehudi’s war.

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