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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Churchill of the Middle East?

If American President Barack Obama insists on playing the role of Neville Chamberlain in the face of Iranian threats against Israel, the good news is that Israel's leader is being called the Churchill of the Middle East (Hat Tip: Beltway Blips).
Bibi Netanyahu, former prime minister and current Likud Party leader, has just been asked by President Shimon Peres to form a new coalition government after the close results in the recent Knesset elections.

His coalition will undeniably be fragile, depending on the support of one or a handful of the Jewish state's tiny fringe parties. But Netanyahu used his first statement as prime minister-presumptive to send a powerful message to both Iran and the Obama administration.

To the shock of many, he pointedly refused even to mention the Palestinian peace process, which has been going nowhere of late. Nor was there, again clearly deliberately, any reference made to the so-called two-state solution, which those negotiations had been aiming to find.

Instead, the man who will soon once again lead the state of Israel spoke of "the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence" — Tehran's Islamofascist regime, which for years now has been pursuing a uranium enrichment program it claims to be peaceful, but which even the United Nations diplomats who seek to appease Iran know to be an unprecedented danger to the free world.

Just as Netanyahu's rise back to power was announced, the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — the self-styled nuclear proliferation watchdog — announced the surprise discovery of an extra 209 kilograms of low-enriched uranium at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility.

That means the fanatical regime has finally reached "nuclear breakout" and possesses enough fissile material for a bomb. Such an amount of low-enriched uranium would allow the manufacture of as much as 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, enough fuel for one nuclear device of the type that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.

The IAEA has been telling the world that Iran was six months to a year away from this threshold — another illustration of the agency's incompetence, its Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding.

In fact, the IAEA doesn't even know how many centrifuges Iran is manufacturing. And considering the urgency of the Iranian nuclear threat, it is incomprehensible and outrageous that the rest of the world stands for its inspections taking place only once a year.

Adding to the gravity of the situation, the IAEA also reported that a new roof has been built over Iran's heavy-water reactor under construction at the city of Arak, southwest of Tehran, a facility the regime has refused to allow inspectors to examine.

And the U.N. agency has found that the uranium traces discovered at the Syrian facility bombed by Israel in 2007 did not originate from the Israelis' bombs, as Syria claims.

It all spells the deadliest of challenges ahead for the United States and the rest of the civilized governments of the world. It seems, however, that only one leader fully appreciates the threat. Like Churchill, Benjamin Netanyahu is calling on his political rivals to unite in a broad "national unity" coalition government.

In nullifying the Islamist nuclear threat it should not be only Israel that unites, but all of us.
Netanyahu's problem is that his unity calls are largely falling on deaf ears. Netanyahu understands that right now the 'Palestinians' are irrelevant. The petty politician with whom he must 'unify' - Tzipi Livni - does not.
Livni told Netanyahu when he called her on Friday afternoon that her views had not changed and that the ideological gaps between their parties were too large to bridge.

But the leaders of her party asked her to not give Netanyahu a final no until after she reported to her faction on Sunday evening on what he offered her.

"We are still seeking a rotation in the Prime Minister's Office, but the main question that needs to be answered when they meet is about Netanyahu's flexibility on diplomatic issues," Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi said.

"If he says he would be in favor of diplomatic concessions, this might persuade us to join and other parties to remain outside the coalition. But we will be surprised if he says he is willing to make diplomatic concessions after he ruled out withdrawing from a single settlement."

Vice Premier Haim Ramon added that "a Likud-Kadima government is what is best for the nation, but for that to happen he [Netanyahu] has to disconnect from Shas and the extreme Right. Portfolios don't matter as much as Livni being able to continue her negotiations with Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmed Qurei."

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said he was willing to join a Netanyahu-led government if the Likud leader would endorse two states for two peoples as his goal.

Livni's No. 2, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, held consultations all weekend with Kadima MKs and told them that joining the next government and remaining in the opposition were both options for him, depending on the circumstances.

"The opposition might be good for Livni herself, but it's not good for Kadima," another top Kadima MK said.

Sources close to Netanyahu responded that he would offer Livni the vice premiership and nine portfolios.

He will tell her that he wants negotiations with the Palestinians to continue in an effort to live together in peace with defensible borders.

But Netanyahu will not agree to leave Shas out of the government, because of an unwritten agreement with the party that convinced Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to prevent Livni from forming a government in October.

Netanyahu vowed in that deal to to add Shas first to any government.

"The Likud will form a government, and we hope it will be with Kadima and even Labor, but we won't give up our majority that we have without them from the factions that recommended us to the president," Likud MK Reuven Rivlin said.

A Likud source said he believed Barak would like to join the government, especially because he knew he would not be opposition leader if Kadima remained outside the coalition.

The source revealed that there was "engagement between Likud and Labor," but predicted that it would only get in high gear after Kadima gave Likud a final "no."

Sources close to Barak said his views about Labor remaining in the opposition had not changed and he was under no pressure to change them.

A senior Labor official said the party would be more likely to join if Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman remained outside the government, something that was only expected to happen if he were indicted on the money laundering allegations police are investigating before a new government is formed.

Netanyahu and Lieberman met on Friday but neither side revealed the content of their conversation.
Everyone interviewed in this article from Kadima other than Mofaz is from Livni's faction and not from Mofaz's. As to Tzachi HaNegbi in particular, I feel sorry for his 83-year old mother, who must be wondering where she went wrong. But you can't take half a party into a coalition. My guess is that Kadima remains in the opposition and will fall apart over the next couple of years as the Mofaz faction makes its way back to the Likud.

Barak will also not succeed in dragging his party into the coalition. Barak is an anomaly in a party whose MK's include Comrade Yuli, Comrade Peretz, Ophir Pines-Paz and former uber-liberal Israel Radio broadcaster Shelly Yechimovitch. I think it's more likely that Barak will resign as Labor party leader and become Defense Minister out of a sense of national duty (55% of the public wants him to be Defense Minister according to a recent poll). Whether he will then turn right and join the Likud remains a question for the next election. It would not be a very sharp turn.

Netanyahu has been quoted as saying that his biggest mistake during his 1996-99 term was not forming a national unity government. That's water under the bridge. And under the circumstances at the time, I doubt Netanyahu could have formed a national unity government. It's thirteen years later. Nothing has changed. They still hate him. If Netanyahu is to play the role of Churchill, it will likely be with a narrow coalition.


At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Netanyahu were Churchill, he wouldn't be desparately seeking to have Kadima as a coalition partner, when he can form a majority that has a few more brain cells when it comes to Israel's security and the sham that are the Arabs and the piss process.

Wishful thinking.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Ehud Barak may well abandon the dying Labor Party and join the Likud. His views are to the right of where his own party now stands and he could well do it if he is forced out of his position as Labor chairman.

Tzipi Livni wants to go in the opposition but Kadima may well split as Shaul Mofaz takes those on Kadima's right back into the Likud. The rump Left in Kadima led by Livni will probably merge with what's left of rump Labor.

Every one can see where the political winds are blowing. Bibi in the end will find no taker in Livni and may have to content himself with a Barak departure from Labor to have him in his government.

There may be a government of former rivals but it won't be a national unity government even in name. Kadima is too selfish to put the national good above its leader's parochial interests and Labor's Barak is not strong enough to buck the leftist tide that guaranteed to sink Labor into oblivion after the next election.

Bibi is drawing all the wrong lessons from his last stint as Prime Minister precisely because Israel's political map is very different from the 90s when the Left and Right had nearly even balanced blocs.

At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman, saying Barak is to the right of Labor is like saying Seattle is to the west of Nantucket.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Ahhh, Then we must also remember that Churchill said: "Although personally I am quite content with existing explosives, I feel we must not stand in the path of improvement."

Shavua tov,


At 9:21 PM, Blogger LB said...

Norman - "Ehud Barak may well abandon the dying Labor Party and join the Likud." If he does that, he will just turn into another Sharon - Sharon the Mapainik that the whole world thinks was a hardcore rightist who turned into a dove.

Then again, in a way, Barak represents Labor of the 70s and 80s. A leftist who is also a "בטחוניסט" - very security/military minded (better translation, anyone?). Most of the Knesset is not right or really left either - but somewhere around the center - lacking ideology, really.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger the_raptor said...

Carl, if Kadima goes into opposition but Bibi woos Shaul Mofaz back into the Likud, would Mofaz bring any MKs with him into support of the government?

At 12:22 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

The Raptor,

Yes, but my impression is not that many.


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