Netanyahu, not Israel, needs unity government to survive

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is misleading the people when he claims that only a unity government would be apt to tackle the Iran threat.

al-monitor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on during his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, Oct. 3, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Oct 14, 2019

Iran is a real problem for the world and a real problem for Israel. The close relations between the two states ended with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolution in 1979, and since then Israel has been depicted by the ayatollah regime as an illegitimate entity that must disappear from the earth. The regime demands nothing from Israel, doesn’t offer compromises, talks, or the like. Israel’s fate is clear, and what is said by one member of the United Nations against another, is indeed hair-raising. So are also Iran’s activities through its various arms — Hezbollah, the Islamic Jihad and other terror groups that harm Israelis and non-Israeli Jews around the world. Thus Iran, in its desire to create nuclear bombs despite its denials, is a threat to Israel even if its threats are always tied to the statement that it would use force against Israel if Israel attacks it or its representatives. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as much as it doesn’t concern the leaders of the Iranian regime from morning to night, is an excuse to foster hate toward Israel. 

This was the reason that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the 1992 election campaign, had a slogan that promised an agreement with the Palestinians “within six to nine months.” I can still hear his voice repeating this. He didn’t hide his view and explained that he wanted to reach such an agreement before Iran succeeds in creating an atom bomb. 

Netanyahu didn’t invent the Iranian threat, but he tried — with great success — to turn the issue into a national phobia. He spoke hysterically when he said to 60 ambassadors who gathered to hear his view as the head of the opposition in 2006: “It’s 1938, and Iran is Germany.” I told him then that if this sentence were true, the best thing to do is to flee from here. He rejected my response. 

Ten years earlier, when he was first elected prime minister, Netanyahu concluded the opposite of what Rabin did from the Iranian issue. He stopped, in effect, the Oslo process, didn’t seriously try to hold negotiations for a permanent solution with the PLO and became the global watchdog about Iran’s intentions. 

The height of his efforts was when he appeared, in 2015, before the two houses of Congress in order to try to convince them to thwart the world powers’ agreement with Iran that President Barack Obama had committed to. In this process Netanyahu created a real rift not just with the president, who was astounded at the chutzpah, but with the Democratic minority, which has in the meantime turned into the majority in the House of Representatives. 

But when Netanyahu becomes hysterical, it’s hard to convince him with rational arguments. It’s a fact that when President Donald Trump, at a time when Netanyahu was one of his close advisers, decided in May 8, 2018, to pull out of the agreement, Netanyahu celebrated an enormous victory. He [Netanyahu] didn’t understand the damage this did, not just to the credibility of the United States, our very important ally, but to the achievement in delaying Iran’s creation of nuclear weapons. There’s no doubt that the current behavior of the ayatollah regime is a response to the same irresponsible decision by the Trump administration, and an attempt to ease the sanctions levied on Iran. It may well be that Netanyahu’s “success” in convincing Trump not to respect the commitment of his predecessor to the agreement is one of the biggest mistakes he’s made in his long years in power, alongside the mistake in scaring the world about Iran, instead of trying to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinians and support the JPCOA agreement. 

In his recent speeches Netanyahu has changed his tune for a narrow right-wing government and has become an ardent supporter of the idea of a national unity government, using Iran’s recent action against the Saudis as a reason for the necessity of the formation of such a government. His claim is that Israel must be prepared for potential attacks of the same precision, and that this involves an expenditure of billions of shekels, which can be achieved in the framework of national unity. The topic of peace with the Palestinians doesn’t get even lip service from Netanyahu. It’s so clear to him that there’s no one to talk to and nothing to talk about that he doesn’t even mention the topic in his speeches. 

But what’s the connection between a national unity government and the Iranian threat? Does someone seriously think that if, heaven forbid, there was a direct threat to Israel, there would be disagreement between the government and the opposition? When has such a thing last happened? In Israel, like in most democracies in the world, politicians tend to close ranks when facing a common enemy, and tend (perhaps too much) to defer disagreements until the conflict is over. The addition of the then-leader of the right, Menachem Begin, and his liberal colleague Yosef Sapir to the first national unity government in Israel’s history on the eve of the 1967 war as ministers without portfolio added nothing to that big victory. The two would have praised the IDF and the government from the opposition bench, as they did in the years that preceded it.

The many billions of shekels Netanyahu is talking about now, which require a right-left government in order to be allocated, are a different story. It’s true that without a real opposition it’s easier to cut budgets for education, health, welfare and infrastructure, but the big question is whether it’s justified. Israel — according to Netanyahu’s belief — must arm itself up to its neck to face the Iranian threat. Obviously, in order to fund this, it would have to cut other, very important budgets. In other words, Israel would have to shoot itself in the foot and harm what is so important to its citizens in everyday life. It’s a good reason, as far as Netanyahu’s concerned, to form a unity government, but this isn’t in the public interest. 

Netanyahu is interested in one thing: to escape prison, and in order to do so he called an early election, pushed a decision to hold another election after the results didn’t deliver what he sought, and now he wants a unity government that would give him the opportunity to stand in court as prime minister. The precision guided missiles from Iran have no connection to this, just as the military conflict between the Turks and Kurds in Syria is not connected to this. Netanyahu fears for the future of Israel, but, first of all, he fears for his own future. 

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