Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling early elections so that he and his government will be free to deal with Iran’s nuclear program this September-October, one of Israel’s best-informed political commentators said on Friday night.
Netanyahu is set on Sunday to announce that he is dissolving parliament and calling elections for September 4 — a year ahead of schedule. In the weeks immediately after that vote, said well-connected commentator Amnon Abramovich on the top-rated Channel 2 news, Netanyahu will head a transition government at home and have no need to worry about voter sentiment, and he knows that President Barack Obama will be paralyzed by the US presidential campaign.
Netanyahu has shocked the nation in the past few days by indicating that he will be calling elections a year ahead of their scheduled date in October 2013, leaving analysts baffled as to his reasoning. Speculation has focused on differences among the various coalition parties over legislation on national service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis, and over elements of the national budget.
But Abramovich said that the dramatic decision to bring the elections forward relates to Iran. After the September elections, which all polls show Netanyahu winning easily, he will head a transition government for several weeks while a new coalition is formed. During that period, Netanyahu “will not be beholden to the voters,” and will be free to take decisions on Iran that many Israelis might not support, Abramovich said.
Furthermore, he will still have his trusted Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, at his side. Barak is seen as unlikely to fare well in the elections, and may not even retain his Knesset seat, but would retain the defense portfolio until a new coalition is formed.
And finally, said Abramovich, the September-October period would see Obama, who has publicly urged more patience in allowing diplomacy and sanctions to have their impact on Iran, in the final stages of the presidential election campaign, with a consequent reduced capacity to try to pressure Israel into holding off military intervention.
Obama, “on the eve of elections, won’t dare criticize Israel,” said Abramovich. From Netanyahu’s point of view, “the conditions would be fantastic.”
He noted that a transition government is prevented by law from taking dramatic policy decisions — except in critical circumstances, and drew attention to comments from Barak in a newspaper interview Friday in this regard.
“The political-security system will make decisions as needed, even under challenging circumstances,” said Barak about the impact of elections. “We must separate the issue of Iran from the subject of elections.”
Barak also said of the Iranian nuclear drive: “The moment of truth is approaching.”
Netanyahu has been repeatedly drawing parallels in recent weeks between the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel and the Holocaust, has said sanctions are not working, and warned that he will not allow Israel to have to live in the shadow of “annihilation.”
He has also indicated that a decision on military intervention in Iran will have to be taken within months.
Barak, for his part, has stated repeatedly that confronting Iran before it achieves a nuclear weapons capability, however complex, will be far less challenging a prospect than confronting a nuclear Iran.
In the interview Friday with the Israel Hayom daily, Barak recalled a speech given in 2003 by the then-Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who, said Barak, spoke of Israel as being “so small and vulnerable that it is a ‘one-bomb’ nation.
“If one bomb were dropped on it, this nation would not return to its former glory,” Barak quoted Rafsanjani as saying. “After the exchange of blows, Rafsanjani said, Islam would remain and Israel would not remain as it was. He also noted that there need not be any clear markers on the bomb as to where it came from. It could be transported in a shipping container that arrives at some port and simply explodes.”
Added Barak: “I do not delude myself. The moment of truth is approaching. We have to decide what to do about this if the sanctions and diplomacy fail…
“Some say let’s trust the world… I say that in the end we can deal with Iran now or deal with a nuclear Iran that poses a far greater danger… If it obtains a nuclear weapon, it will be very hard to bring it down. Now they are trying to seek immunity for their nuclear program. If they achieve military nuclear capability, for arms, or a threshold in which they can assemble a bomb within 60 days, they will acquire another form of immunity – for the regime.”
Barak recalled Israel being caught off guard in 1973, when it was attacked in the Yom Kippur War and sustained heavy losses. “What happened in 1973? The entire cabinet was blinded and we were forced to pay the price on the battlefield.”
The defense minister also used the interview to castigate several ex-intelligence chiefs and former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who have criticized what they argue is the government’s misguided handling of the Iranian threat, and who have warned that the Netanyahu-Barak duo may be leading Israel into a regional war with dire potential consequences.
Said Barak: “You can trust me when I say this: In the history of the state, there has never been such as orderly decision-making process.”