Upheaval in Ariel Sharon’s Party
Tzipi Livni loses leadership to former IDF Chief
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Out of nowhere, Tsipi Livni was elected as a member of the Knesset for the Likud party, in the general elections held on May 17, 1999. Her sudden appearance there was enough to prove her credentials to the Israeli public. Any formal mention that she was Mossad would have been superfluous; yet, reliable rumors appeared in the newspapers claiming she had been a low-ranking Mossad agent. In the Israeli jargon, the statement was clear. She had not been an officer like Victor Ostrovsky and probably held a position similar to the one of “Cindy,” the code name for Mossad agent Cheryl Bentov. The latter, apparently posing as a bar-girl, played a key-role in the kidnapping of Mordechai Vanunu by Israel in 1986. Bar-girl or not, in Israeli political life, a Mossad agent has the right (or maybe the information needed to blackmail others) to bypass the regular political path and to land as a prince in parliament, right next to the top. “Etzel” is the Hebrew acronym for “HaIrgun HaTzvai HaLeumi BeEretz Israel,” the “National Military Organization in the Land of Israel.” It is part of what it is referred to in Hebrew as “HaMishpaha HaLohemet,” literally meaning the “Warring Family.” Widely known for its violent attacks against innocents, like the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (1946) and the Dir Yassin Massacre (1948), it became the predecessor of the Herut (“Freedom,” now Likud) party. Worryingly, both of Livni's parents were prominent members of the Warring Family. Eitan Livni—her father—was Etzel’s Chief Operations Officer. He married Sara Rosenberg—a fellow member of the organization—in what became the first official marriage in the State of Israel. Tsipi Livni grew up among people that in modern terms would be classified as “terrorists.”
However, not only Kadima is in trouble. The current Minister of Defense Ehud Barak’s obsession with an attack on Iran has political reasons. He is in a desperate political situation. Despite the fact that being Minister of Defense transforms him into the second most important politician in Israel, 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 on 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 he led 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, and he retained his position as Defense Minister. In January 2011, Labor threatened to force Barak to leave the government, following disagreements with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies. In reply, Barak formed a breakaway party, Atzmaut (Independence), which enabled him to maintain his loyal Labor MK faction within Netanyahu’s 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. His new party has little chance of entering the next Knesset. If he is lucky, he may get the minimum possible number of Knesset members. If he is unlucky, he will stay out. In any case, even if Netanyahu—his brother in arms—wins the next elections, Barak is unlikely to get again his beloved Minister of Defense position. A party of two or three Knesset members has no chance of getting that senior position in the subsequent government.
Unless—of course—he proves himself once again as a war hero, attracting votes from IDF soldiers, especially from the reservists. This effect is well known in Israeli politics. Many years ago, Lieutenant General Rafael “Raful” Eitan, who led the First Lebanese War, entered the Knesset with a newly formed party; his name was so attractive to the military-related electorate that he got 8 seats in parliament. The new party was mockingly known afterwards as “Raful and the Seven Dwarves,” because nobody remembered the names of the other 7 members. Barak needs a war for this strategy to succeed; Iran may provide the perfect excuse. However, a few days ago, the USA Thwarted an Israeli Attack on Iran. Thus, Barak is desperate.
Does it matter?
In the current political configuration there is little doubt Netanyahu would be Israel’s next prime minister even after the 2013 elections, though his coalition may change. The main change may come through the appearance of Yair Lapid (see Torch Sets Israel Afire) as a member of the coalition. Netanyahu is not fond of Barak as a senior partner; recently he sent one of his senior ministers— Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s current Minister of Finance—to openly attack Barak’s Ministry of Defense fiefdom (seeWar Declared on Barak). Barak has been proven to have little ideology and no scruples; his next move may be joining Kadima as second in command after Shaul Mofaz, or making an alliance between the two parties. In such a way, a counterweight to Netanyahu would be formed, and we will witness a more interesting campaign.
However, does this matter? In one of the past elections, one of the slogans used by Shas—an ultra-Orthodox party, see “Decider of the Generation” is Dying—was “Right and Left, Only Sand and Sand.” “Sand” is often used in Hebrew as a euphemism for something common, not special. Weekdays are generally referred to as “sand days.” Shas message in its slogan was that left-wing and right-wing parties were all the same, that the answer was in the religious Jewish world (see Humanism Fanatics; Gullible Christians for a related topic). In one angle of the issue they were right: all Jewish parties in the Knesset are Zionists. Invariably all of them are infiltrated by the Shin Beth and host incredible numbers of former senior military officers. Hence, it is very difficult to differentiate between their ideologies. Moreover, the decisions of the political level running the country are not based on the ideologies voted for by the people, but on secret talks in bunkers suffocating in by cigarette smoke. Netanyahu or Barak, Livni or Mofaz, all of them are just “sand and sand.” Israel internal political wars will continue to lead into regional wars aimed at proving who the Warring Family’s best son is. “Cain” seems to be the eternal Jewish answer to this question.
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