Elections in January; War in …
Netanyahu cannot solve social protests
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The Israeli Prime Minister is anxious to have elections as soon as possible. By law, the event should take place in November 2013. In the unstable Middle East, this is an entire eon into the future. Since Netanyahu has no serious opponents right now, he prefers to materialize his popularity. Why should his party—the Likud—be only the second largest and rely on a complex coalition? This is crucial. Netanyahu is pushing hard for a war with Iran. It would be better for him to enter such a violent event while his party holds the main positions in the government. Right now, Ehud Barak is the Minister of Defense and Avigdor Lieberman is the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Neither one is considering joining the Likud.
Even for Netanyahu finding an excuse was easy. He needs a war with Iran due to the harsh social protests plaguing the Hebrew society. The two main sectors bothering him are secular Jews living in large cities and unable to cope with the cost of life there, and ultra-Orthodox Jews—Haredim and Hasidim—who oppose the State's intention to draft them into the IDF. Netanyahu’s manipulation was straightforward. Before January, the Knesset must legislate the State budget for the following year. Netanyahu claimed that due to coalitional pressures he is not able to propose a satisfactory budget and thus early elections was the best solution. In fact, he has enough political power to pass a budget. Moreover, former governments worked for many months using partial budgets approved on a monthly basis. Yet, Bibi wants elections.
Can Netanyahu Win?
Bad science is a characteristic of the West; manipulations to suit the wishes of the researchers abound. Sometimes, reality is so complex that no significant research can be conducted. This is typical of stock-exchange markets. Reading analyses of their performances, one often finds what is called “technical analysis.” It refers to a method in which the complex financial data is ignored, and a simple, technical analysis of the graphs is done with the hope that the prices follow a distinctive graphical pattern. It is as efficient as black-magic; yet, proud researchers will never say “I don’t know.” These techniques carry no real value. Something similar happened yesterday, after Netanyahu’s declaration. Instead of analyzing the political map, the Hebrew media looked into the past. They concluded that most Prime Ministers announcing early elections lost them. The best known example is Shimon Peres losing against Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1996 elections, following Rabin’s assassination. “Netanyahu is likely to lose,” they concluded. Of course, he is likely to win.
Two of the leaders portrayed as central to the Israeli political map are likely to lose strength. Despite the fact that being Minister of Defense transforms him into the second most important politician in Israel, Ehud Barak is fighting for his political life. And he is losing. After winning back the leadership of the Labor party, Barak was sworn in as Minister of Defense in June 2007, as part of Prime Minister Olmert’s cabinet reshuffle. During December 2008 through January 2009, Barak led (as defense minister) Operation Cast Lead, which led to Israel being defined as a terror state. In the 2009 elections, the Labor Party, led by Barak, won just 13 out of the 120 Knesset seats, making it the fourth largest party. Barak reached an agreement with Netanyahu under which Labor joined the governing coalition. Barak retained his position as Defense Minister. In January 2011, Labor Party leader Barak formed a breakaway party, Atzmaut (Independence), which enabled him to maintain his loyal Labor’s MK faction within Netanyahu’s government after Labor threatened to force Barak to leave the government. After Barak’s move, Netanyahu was able to maintain a majority government. Barak’s preemptive move against the Labor party was successful on a tactical scale. He stayed in the government and in the same position. However, it was a strategic disaster. As of now, both parties—Labor and Atzmaut—face tragedy. Labor admitted not having funds even for conducting polls. The main party of the Zionist movement for many years may become one of the smallish parties in the next Knesset. Ehud Barak’s party is in an ever worsening situation, it may not pass the vote threshold needed to enter the Knesset. Similarly, Kadima is likely to lose strength. Shaul Mofaz lost personal prestige after his odd zigzag, entering and leaving a coalition almost immedately is not something that can be easily explained to the electorate. Accordingly, on October 10, Barak and Tzipi Livni—the Kadima leader replaced by Mofaz—announced talks between them. A new party may be formed, maybe with a lame Labor joining it, but considering the shaky reputations of the people involved, it is unlikely to emerge as a winner.
Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman—leader of Yisrael Beiteinu—has already announced that his party will be the second largest after the Likud following the next elections. Yet, he may find himself leading the opposition, leaving his prized ministry to the Likud. Shas, a Mizrahi-Haredi party that became a pillar of the Zionist-Haredi alliance enabling the State of Israel (see Netanyahu’s Mule: On an Unholy Alliance) is also expected to increase its strength. Every time they managed to create controversy, they augmented their strength; these days the return of Aryeh Deri—a former leader of the party—is succeeding to stir the party’s voters. Traditionally, Shas supports right wing extremists as long as it gets control of the state's religious institutions; the Likud will gladly pay this price as it has always done.
Unless something unexpected happens, nobody stands in the way of Netanyahu. However, the Middle East being the Middle East anything can happen. The abovementioned 1996 elections are a good example. In Shimon Peres: Lawrence of Poland, I analyzed Peres links to the Shin Beth. Most Israeli army officers would testify that this person worked for years with the Israeli secret police; moreover, he probably was the political level person who signed the assassination order against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was so mistrusted after the tragic event that he failed to win the elections; considering that he was a member of the same party of the assassinated leader, this shows how hated he was. Peres won’t run now. He is President—a figurehead position—and unlikely to move backwards to the Knesset. Moreover, he is too old. Thus, it is not surprising the Shin Beth is promoting a new candidate of its own. Yair Lapid—a former Chanel 2 anchor—is running as head of a new party and may win enough votes to become a member of the next coalition to govern Israel (see Torch Sets Israel Afire). He provides a point of interest and should be watched carefully. If Netanyahu wants to keep alive and shaving, he should make sure Lapid doesn’t ascend the political ladder.
In one sleek move, Netanyahu is about to get rid of his main political opponents. After the elections in Israel and America, he would be able to fulfill his dream of an attack on Iran with no significant opposition at home and with no political rival capable of stealing the show. The winds of war are about to become a tornado. Elections in January; war in …
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