A familiar face has introduced something new into the upcoming Israeli elections in September. Former prime minister Ehud Barak has formed a new party ahead of those elections and is working to unite the most left-wing Zionist parties behind him.
Barak characterized his new party as a challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and for the moment, that’s what it is. But it is also an effort to unseat Avigdor Liberman from his position as kingmaker. Liberman has thrown the Israeli electoral system into disarray by essentially demanding that Likud, without Netanyahu, and Benny Gantz’s and Yair Lapid’s Blue and White coalition form a unity government. Read more at LobeLog
The Israeli elections are over, and the outcome largely matched the predictions. The Blue and White coalition amassed enough votes to match Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, but only Likud has a path to assembling a governing coalition. Many pundits tried—and largely succeeded—to generate interest in an election that was a nearly foregone conclusion from the start, with only an unlikely combination of long shots offering a sliver of hope that the Benny Gantz-led center-right opposition to Likud could eke out a narrow victory.
This is familiar territory for Netanyahu, for he has faced races just as tight as this one several times in the past. In both 1996 (in a direct election for prime minister) and in 2015, it looked for a time like Netanyahu would not get the most votes. In 2009, he didn’t, but Tzipi Livni, whose Kadima party got the most seats, was unable to cobble together a governing coalition.
This time, Netanyahu may have ended up in a tie with Gantz at 35 seats each, but the right wing and religious parties emerged with a distinct majority. He’ll need to do some wheeling and dealing to appease every party he wants in the government, but it’s a trick he’s pulled off many times before. The new government will, once again, be the most right wing in Israel’s history. But this time, the length of the new government’s tenure will depend more on Netanyahu’s legal troubles than on the political dynamics of the coalition. Read more at LobeLog
With elections in Israel looming in six weeks, Israelis are watching Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who is expected to announce his decision on whether he is
going to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. Similar—and less serious—charges brought down Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, from the prime minister’s perch and landed him in jail. But Netanyahu’s situation is different, and he will likely continue to lead Likud into this election. Despite his legal troubles and his trailing in the polls, Netanyahu remains the favorite in this race because the math continues to work in his favor.
That’s why, earlier this week, the co-leader of the newly formed Blue and White coalition, Yair Lapid, announced that if his party won the election, its first call would be to the head of Likud, as long as it isn’t Netanyahu. If this new “coalition of the generals”—of its four leading candidates, three are former chiefs of staff of the Israel Defense Forces—does win a plurality of seats in the next Knesset, as it is currently on pace to do, it will not be able to form a government without Likud. Read more at LobeLog
Israeli elections always feature a lot of political drama. But when the Knesset was dissolved on December 24, it set off a flurry of action that was furious even by Israeli standards. The drama is likely to increase between now and election day on April 9 even though the winner is almost certainly a foregone conclusion.
Soon after the new elections were announced, political bombshells went off in parties on the right and in the center. It started with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked bolting their party, HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home). Soon after, the head of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay, publicly humiliated former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, thereby eliminating the Zionist Union coalition his party had formed with Livni’s Hatnuah party.
From the point of view of all Israeli politicians—except Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—this election is really about positioning for the next one. Netanyahu is going to win, but it’s very likely to be his final term as prime minister. A fight is now taking place over the succession, amid the ongoing collapse of the center and center-left of Israeli politics. Read more at LobeLog
The new Israeli government features a security braintrust that might be a bit more reasonable on Iran, but is likely to be even more hawkish both in the immediate region
Netanyahu has a new and untested cabinet
and within the country itself. Gone are voices from the Israeli right who favored a more reasoned and diplomatic approach to their right-wing agenda. They have been replaced by figures who want more direct action and refuse even the pretense of a two-state solution.
On Iran, the retirement of Ehud Barak removes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading supporter in his effort for a strike on Iran sooner rather than later, whether that be carried out by Israel or, preferably, the United States. He is replaced by Moshe “Bogey” Ya’alon. Bogey is also an Iran hawk, but is not in favor of Israel launching an attack other than as a last resort. He is far more content than Barak to allow the United States to take the lead and wants Israel to act only if it becomes apparent that the US will not. That puts him pretty well in line with the Israeli military and intelligence leadership in practice, though he sees Iran as more of a threat than they do.
In fact, no one in the current or even the outgoing inner circle came close to matching Barak’s eagerness for military action against Iran. Only Netanyahu himself could match him, and he remains daunted by the lack of support for his position in Israel. The ongoing hawkishness in the US Congress and President Barack Obama’s repeated statements holding firm to a military option and refusing a policy of containment also blunt Netanyahu’s resolve. It would seem that, at least for the time being, the calls for war on Iran will be fueled more in the United States than in Israel.
Ya’alon is a former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, but he did not have a distinguished term of service there, was not well-liked and returns without a great deal of good will among the military and intelligence services’ leadership. In fact, colleagues in Israel tell me there is a good deal of consternation in those services regarding Bogey’s appointment. But for now, they will wait and see how he acts. For a deeper look at Ya’alon, see my recent piece on him here. Continue reading →