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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Trying to blame Bibi

He's been out of the government since he belatedly resigned from Ariel Sharon's cabinet one year ago last week. Most of the MK's from his party fled to another party, and his party won only twelve seats in the current Knesset. He's the leader of the opposition - barely. And he's become a target for a Prime Minister once again.

He's former Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, and he may be the Knesset's most skilled orator. In this war, he tried to take on a statesman-like image, not only by being the government's best spokesman, but by not going after Olmert for the kill in yesterday's Knesset session:
Benjamin Netanyhu's address was no less important than Olmert's. As head of the opposition, he could have taken advantage of the moment and challenged the leadership. He could have protested, as Begin did, following the Yom Kippur War by asking why they didn't bring the armament closer? Netanyahu could have accused Olmert's government of failure; he could have called for a legal commission of inquiry. He could have conveyed a message that he was the right person to replace Olmert as prime minister, that there is an alternative to a failed cabinet.

However, Netanyahu chose to maintain a low profile. Perhaps his bitter experience in previous instances silenced him; perhaps he found it difficult to abandon the image he had acquired during the war, an image of a stately opposition leader of fine caliber. His speech was excellent. It was controlled and careful. He managed to maintain this sterile image, almost without friction. The applause coming from the plenum attested to his growing popularity.


The two speeches delivered by the prime minister and the opposition leader met on the Knesset podium. They addressed a country licking its wounds at the end of a war plagued with question marks. Despite the circumstances, Netanyahu didn't take advantage of the situation for a knockout shot, if there had been a duel it took place without firing a single shot.

Perhaps Netanyahu was right when he decided that this wasn't the time to rock the boat, to call for a commission of inquiry at this point in time.

And perhaps, Netanyahu like Netanyahu, lost the moment because of his stateliness.
But they're already coming after Netanyahu. The IDF is seeking to deflect criticism of its performance in this war, by claiming that budgets were cut so deeply that training suffered. Netanyahu was Finance Minister from 2003 until his resignation one year ago last week:
A short while after the cease-fire came into effect yesterday, a very senior officer in the IDF had the leisure to direct the wrath of the reserve soldiers, who are returning home with a kitbag full of complaints, at the political echelon.

"For eight years, ever since they cut the 1998 budget, instead of training and preparing ourselves for the next war, we were constantly asking ourselves how we could survive and influence the good people to remain in the army. For six years we have been fighting in the territories and we could not deal with the real threats. We learned to base ourselves on the regular army, and in the meantime a generation of reservists aged 26 and 28 has grown up, whose experience consists only of war in the fields of Gaza and Jenin. Had they given us another 3 billion a year - that is, 37 billion rather than 34 billion - we would have been much, much better prepared for this battle. It can be said that the air force and intelligence proved themselves, but on the ground we were prepared solely for war against the Palestinians.

"The IDF took efficiency measures in those years and endlessly discussed how to become more effective. But in the end you can buy a limited number of tanks and a limited amount of materiel. When reservists discover in wartime that the shelf is empty because the equipment wasn't purchased, they rightly feel deep frustration. Saving is an important value, but in our neighborhood you have to be alert and as tightly coiled as a spring. Thus we found ourselves with an air force that was prepared and an eroded land army.

"We are being asked why we didn't warn of the dire situation. I am telling you that for six years the IDF presented the bad situation to the political echelon, the heads of the security establishment and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee again and again. The Knesset members support us, the defense ministers are dealing with political difficulties, and prime ministers and finance ministers respond nonchalantly. I have a collection of articles about the waste in the IDF, and I am telling you it is lucky we have the United States. We have to give thanks every day to our only friend in the free world for the support it has given us in this war."
And it's not just the IDF that is after Netanyahu.
Next in line in the crosshairs are the leaders of the Likud, MKs Benjamin Netanyahu and Silvan Shalom, the finance ministers who prepared most of the budget books after the withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000. [Shalom was Finance Minister from Sharon's election in 2001 until after the 2003 elections, when Sharon put Netanyahu in Finance and Shalom as Foreign Minister in a bid to neutralize both of them in favor of Olmert. CiJ]

"I am waiting for the moment when Bibi [Netanyahu] and Silvan open their mouths," said one of the ministers closest to the prime minister yesterday. "Who is responsible for the empty emergency storehouses? Ehud Olmert, who spent a few months at the Finance Ministry? Who is to blame for the mess in the shelters? [Finance Minister] Abraham Hirchson, who went into the treasury a hundred days ago? Who cut 75 percent of the balancing grants to the local authorities and brought them to the brink of bankruptcy? [Interior Minister] Ronnie Bar-On, who has barely had the time to warm his chair in the Interior Ministry?"
Let's face it: all of Netanyahu's detractors know that if they can manage to pin the blame for the mess that is emerging from the war on Netanyahu, it could help all of them stay alive politically to fight another day.


At 6:51 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

The defense cuts were the "peace dividend" resulting from the Iraq war. With Iraq no longer a threat, there was no need for such a large defense budget.

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Naftali and Anonymous,

The defense budget was cut like every other budget. Yes, part of that was a result of the 'peace dividend' of the Iraq war. But part of it is just a misallocation of resources. The IDF spends a lot of money on fun and games to keep soldiers happy that probably ought to be spent on weapons and training.

At 9:53 AM, Blogger CP said...

Question - Is it really the Finance Minister's responsibility to oversee the defense budget appropriations?

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


It's the Finance Minister's responsibility to oversee how much the Defense Ministry gets for a budget. It is not the Finance Minister's responsibility to see how it is spent.

The way the budget works here is very different from how it works in the US. The budget is proposed by the Finance Minister. The other ministers - all of whom are senior members of the coalition and none of whom are professional bureaucrats wrangle over the budget, each trying to get a bit more patronage for his own ministry. Eventually the government agrees on a budget and then uses 'coalition discipline' to put it through the Knesset. The only check on how the budget is actually spent comes years later, when the State Comptroller reviews what actually happened.


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