Netanyahu’s choices: Strike Iran before or after Israeli elections
Will Netanyahu face an election before Obama?
Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are facing another of the periodic opposition campaigns to unseat them – this time by pressure for an early election a year before its October, 2013 date. New faces have joined the opposition lineup. They are focused on challenging the current government’s credentials for leading an Israeli attack to preempt a nuclear Iran. These two goals are interchangeable. However, before the campaign peaks, DEBKAfile’s analysts report it has begun to backfire.
The newcomer to the anti-government ranks is the party registered Sunday, April 29, by ex-broadcaster Yair Lapid as “Yesh Atid” (There is a Future). His potential partners are former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former chief of staff Gaby Ashkenazi. They are all casting about for a political base, together or apart, from which to tip over the current government. Incumbent President Shimon Peres cheers them on from the wings.
Diskin’s assault on Netanyahu and Barak as not to be trusted to lead a war and guided by “messianic” feelings was launched Friday, April 27, directly after Independence Day celebrations, at the same time as two leading opposition parties, Labor and Kadima, set the stage for an early election to stem the right-of-center government’s constant gains in opinion polls.
The ex-Shin Bet chief sounded the drum for them all by his assault on Netanyahu’s competence for leading any wars, least of all, a major conflict against Iran. Captions suddenly blossomed in foreign publications on the lines of “Israel’s Generals in Revolt,” implying that Israel’s security establishment was solidly against an attack on Iran.
This is far from the truth. The vocal opponents are a group of disaffected ex-security officials. There are questions about why they did not resign on the grounds of the views they are now voicing instead of fighting to have their tours of duty extended. Now they are casting out lines for careers in politics.
Ehud Olmert, one of the Yesh Atid founding fathers and a member of its inner leadership, set the new party’s security agenda in New York Sunday with this comment: “I think that fundamentally, Israelis believe that a nuclear Iran imperils their existence. That is not in dispute. Nor that we must do everything it takes to defend ourselves against this peril. The question is what should be done, who should do it and when. My answer is this: It is being done and continues to be done by the international community led by the United States.”
With this agenda, Olmert sought to place the question of an Israeli solo attack on Iran versus reliance on US President Barack Obama front and center of the election campaign to come.
He appeared to be drawing on Diskin’s words, that the Israeli public is “stupid” or “ignorant,” leading to his belief that the Israeli voter would swallow a straight black-and-white choice between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.’
The good guys would be Barak Obama and his advisers, who have worked so hard to hold Israel back from a military offensive against Iran, and the baddies are Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak who are making trouble for the US president.
On April 26, Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz tried to fracture this distorted picture: He reported that other armies stand alongside Israel ready to attack Iran and prevent its acquisition of a nuclear weapon.
He did not name those armies, but DEBKAfile’s military sources disclosed he was referring to the United States.
In their drive to discredit Netanyahu and Barak, President Peres, Olmert, Dagan, Diskin and Ashkenazi failed to take note of Gen. Gantz’s words or what they portended – namely: In the past week, the United States has brought forward its operational preparations for an attack on Iran.
Instead, in Jerusalem, Israel’s opposition parties gathered for the push to corner Netanyahu into announcing an early election.
They got their wish sooner than they expected.
The prime minister, after turning the situation over for 48 hours, assented. He figured that the key weapon adopted by his rivals to knock him over was not in fact in their hands but in his: It is up to him and him alone to decide whether to attack Iran. In fact, if an election was forced on his government, he could defeat their scheme by bringing the attack forward.
So the impression of Netanyahu and Barak fighting with their backs to the wall against a body of generals is totally misleading.
Their opponents are beginning to realize that their anti-government offensive has missed its mark and may well blow up in their faces. The pressure for an election may therefore dissipate in the coming days – or not. That too is up to Netanyahu. He may decide that a successful operation against Iran would assure him of an election victory and wipe out his rivals. For now, he’s got his foes guessing.
President Obama was far from happy with the exes’ anti-government maneuvers because he realized that they offered Prime Minister Netanyahu his strongest incentive yet for bringing forward an attack on Iran, an eventuality which the US president had made every effort to prevent before he himself faces the American voter in November.