The unity government backed by a majority of 94 (out of 120) which Binyamin Netanyahu formed Tuesday May 8, is not just the broadest coalition ever to govern Israel, but also the first with three former chiefs of staff at the helm. Two are also present (Ehud Barak) and former (Shaul Mofaz) defense ministers. It was this feature which drew the most attention in Washington as the first reports of Netanyahu’s stunning U-turn away from an early election filtered through.
“He has pulled off another term in office without standing for election,” said one senior administration source, “and he’s done it seven months before Barack Obama faces the American voter.” A re-elected Obama will find the same Netanyahu sitting in the prime minister’s chair in Jerusalem as before – after reinventing himself as a long-life premier.
If he and his new senior partner, former opposition Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz, achieve the targets they have set themselves – especially electoral and government reforms by the end of 2012 – those reforms will enhance Netanyahu’s chances of winning the October 2013 elections. So that when Obama ends his second presidential term in late 2017, Netanyahu will be ending his third as prime minister or as head of state, depending on whether reform legislation merges the two functions.
debkafile’s Washington sources registered three assessments by authoritative US sources of the changes portended by the Israel’s unity government, especially their impact on a potential Israeli, American or combined attack on Iran’s nuclear program:
1. According to one school of thought, the introduction of Mofaz, former chief of staff and defense minister, will make the composition of the new unity government the most hawkish ever, considering that he will sit down alongside Defense Minister Barak and former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, currently vice premier and Minister for Strategic Affairs. All three hold key cabinet posts. Another prominent Kadima member expecting an influential post in the cabinet or a Knesset panel chair is former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter,.
The message to the Obama administration is clear: The vocal criticism leveled against Netanyahu’s capacity to make good on a military option against Iran by a small group of aggrieved former Israeli generals and ex-security chiefs in no way represents the view of the “entire Israeli security establishment” as it was presented. Heading the government today is a solid security elite fully capable of executing any decisions that may be necessary to pre-empt a nuclear Iran.
That is not to say that an Israeli attack on Iran is momentary, say these American sources, possibly even the reverse. They suggest that the new lineup may give Obama a few months’ space before getting down to a final decision on Iran.
2. The second school of thought within the Obama administration noted that while skipping over Iran, both Netanyahu and Mofaz made a point at the news conference launching their partnership in Jerusalem of stressing peace negotiations with the Palestinians as one of the four most compelling factors spurring their collaboration and dominating their goals.
debkafile’s political sources disclose that the prime minister has handed Mofaz the task of breaking down Palestinian resistance to peace talks after nearly two years, so long as he and Netanyahu are of one mind on how to proceed. At their press conference, the Kadima leader stated his party is committed to the concept of a democratic Jewish Israel willing to accept territorial compromise in return for peace with security.
Our Washington sources see this as part of the deal forged between the two men whereby Mofaz is committed to back Netanyahu on Iran while gaining the prime minister’s support on the Palestinian issue. In this, Mofaz is additionally motivated to seek success where former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni failed three years ago when she served as foreign minister.
3. A third view in Washington homes in on the changing face of Israeli politics. One American strategist opined that Israel is undergoing a historic sea change: Reform of the governing and political systems which heads their new coalition’s agenda has the potential for eclipsing the many small and fringe political groupings which for nearly seven decades have kept the political scene unstable and foreshortened the life of most governments. ”The right reform program could leave Israel and its parliament with just three or four major political blocs, center, right, religious and Arab. “
Netanyahu appears to have taken the first step towards introducing a survivable centrist bloc, although every attempt in the past has foundered. Success would thrust the rightist groupings into a separate corner of the political map in opposition to his broad-based ruling coalition.