Netanyahu Hopes Congress Blocks Obama’s Nuclear Deal, While Striving for a Unity Government
Some Israelis in high positions would be grateful if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would give up his highly-publicized broadsides day and night against President Barack Obama over the nuclear deal concluded with Iran Tuesday, July 14.
For one thing, top officials could get some sleep from the prime minister’s incessant phone calls, in which he asks if they had seen one “scandalous” clause or another in the nuclear document.
And the officials responsible for maintaining solid strategic and military ties with their US counterparts in Washington think it’s time to moderate the tenor of the dispute and get down to rationally charting a new strategy in keeping with the consequences of the Iranian nuclear deal.
But DEBKA Weekly’s Washington and Jerusalem sources see no sign of Netanyahu moderating the fury of his rhetoric, for the simple reason that he still believes that, by fighting hard, he can win over the 13 Democratic senators needed to join the Republicans for a majority to overturn the presidential veto of a negative vote on the accord.
The prime minister is certain he has won eleven senators over. He is still working on the last two for when the deal comes up for review in 60 days.
This tactic naturally irks the US President. But Netanyahu is consumed with fury ever since, in the final month of the negotiating marathon in Vienna, the administration locked Israel out of information and updates on progress – even though he got hold of the information from private and intelligence sources.
Netanyahu offers opposition major perks for unity government
But in between TV interviews knocking the deal, the prime minister has set in motion three steps to soften its impact on the Israeli public and redirect Israel’s regional and military thinking – and that of the most affected Arab nations, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan – into forward-focused channels:
1. He is in intensive talks for setting up an emergency unity government with the opposition Labor Party.
Our Jerusalem sources report that Netanyahu is offering opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog, in their private conversations, what amounts to the sun and the moon for coming aboard.
He is ready to disband his coalition government and give the Labor Party (excluding the Zionist Camp in which Tzipi Livni partners Herzog) the choice of top portfolios, such as foreign affairs, finance, internal security, justice and communications.
Herzog would be foreign minister and acting prime minister.
Using the nuclear deal crisis to build a new cabinet
Netanyahu confided to him that, to free up the best posts, he would not be averse to losing Habayit Hayehudi and its leader, Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, or Kulanu and its leader, Moshe Kahlon, for whom Netanyahu thinks the shoes of finance minister are anyway much too big.
Neither would the prime minister mind adding the Palestinian issue to new government guidelines.
He offered to overhaul his Likud party to bring it closer to the center and suggested that Herzog reciprocate by moving his party back from the left.
If this plan works out, the Israeli voter may be presented with a new centrist party in the next general election in 2019 (if the government survives full term).
Our sources report that Herzog hasn’t turned the prime minister’s proposition down and they are still talking.
Defense and military arms stand ready for US U-turn on Assad
2. Netanyahu has put the defense minister and the Israel Defense Forces High Command on notice to prepare for an Obama administration turnaround on Iran’s allies, Syria’s Bashar Assad and Hizballah, in the wake of revamped US relations with Tehran.
This could come about as a decision by Washington in favor of keeping the Assad regime in power and turning away from the Syrian rebel movement. The prime minister would not be surprised if the Obama administration took this step with a view to consolidating the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah lineup and its military assets as the mainstay of the international struggle against the Islamic State.
A grouping of this nature, Netanyahu believes, would pursue the war according to US guidelines all the way up to the Islamic State’s defeat. The danger of pushing the jihadis out of their positions in Syria and Iraq is that they may end up on the borders of Israel and Jordan – and beyond. For this. he wants to be ready.
3. As for Israel’s regional policy in the aftermath of the US détente with Iran, the prime minister plans to work hard to deepen his coordination with Saudi King Salman, Jordan’s Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi. They have plenty of common ground to build on, but for a major drawback: the Israeli prime minister finds the three Arab rulers extremely reluctant to go head to head with the US president.