Dichter holds deciding vote on Iran strike

Literally overnight, MK goes from opposition legislator to the man who could decide whether Israel takes military action against Iran.

August 15, 2012 01:16
4 minute read.
Rivlin with Dichter

Rivlin with Dichter 370. (photo credit: Shmulik Sofer/Knesset)

Kadima MK Avi Dichter on Monday night went from opposition legislator to the man who could decide whether Israel takes military action against Iran when he agreed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s request to become home front defense minister.

Dichter will become the ninth member of Netanyahu’s inner security cabinet, which political sources say was evenly divided until now on the Iranian issue. Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are thought be in favor of a strike if sanctions do not work and if the United States does not take action.

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Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, and Minister-without- Portfolio Bennie Begin are said to be opposed to such a step and to favor giving the US more time to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Dichter’s associates said he was completely undecided on the issue and would learn more about it before making a decision. They denied reports on both sides trying to paint him in one direction or the other, and noted that his past statements on the issue were noncommittal.

On the one hand, Dichter has been quoted questioning the effectiveness of sanctions and saying that “Israel must build its ability to attack.” But on the other, he has said Israel should wait for America to take action.

“I think that Israel is not a superpower,” he said earlier this year.

“We cannot lead the world offensive against Iran. We have to participate; we have to give all kinds of information and intelligence that we have. We need to prepare, just in case nobody plans to do anything, but to lead, it will be a total mistake by the State of Israel.”

Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz warned that Dichter’s step was part of Netanyahu’s effort to draft a majority for a strike on Iran. His associates said he felt he was ushered out of the cabinet because he opposed taking action.

“The citizens of Israel should be concerned about the wide implications of [Dichter’s] step,” Mofaz said. “This is a direct continuation of the warmongering of the prime minister and defense minister, who don’t miss a chance to buy MKs for their dangerous, messianic aims.

Dichter is a man with many merits who made a mistake by risking his good name to jump ship for a secondary ministry without real authority in a shameless, cynical government.”

Dichter’s associates said he insisted on quitting his Knesset seat and joining the government as a professional appointee so he would not harm Kadima. They said he could have taken seven Kadima MKs with him but decided it would be undemocratic.

Dichter submitted his resignation to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin at a gas station on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway between his residence in Ashkelon and Rivlin’s in the capital. The resignation will take effect shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday, enabling him to enter the cabinet in a special session of the Knesset during the summer parliamentary recess on Thursday.

“The people of Israel need you and are building on you,” Rivlin said at the meeting. “In all the posts you have had, you went above and beyond the call.”

Dichter will replace outgoing Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i, who will leave next week for Beijing to be Israel’s next ambassador to China.

His seat in Knesset will be filled by the next name on Kadima list of Knesset candidates, Arab vote contractor and Mofaz loyalist Ahmed Dabbah.

Ministers Meridor, Begin, Michael Eitan and Yossi Peled turned down the Home Front Defense portfolio, as did former minister Tzachi Hanegbi, former MK Danny Yatom and former IDF deputy chief of staff Uzi Dayan.

Barak offered Dichter the job at a late-night meeting at the former’s Tel Aviv penthouse and the latter formally accepted it in a meeting with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem that lasted until 1:30 a.m.

Dichter had been a strong supporter of Kadima joining the government, and was very critical of Mofaz when he left.

“There is no sense or justification in leaving the coalition,” he said at the time.

Dichter wrote on his Facebook page that he decided to accept the job because he wanted to serve the country in the best way that he could.

“After a long period of deliberation, that I did not hide from anyone, I made a decision last night to accept Netanyahu and Barak’s request and be appointed as home front defense minister,” he wrote.

“Partisan and personal considerations were pushed aside, and as in the past 42 years since joining the IDF, I chose to serve the country as best as I can. At this time, I believe that I can do this best in the role of home front defense minister.”

Netanyahu said on Tuesday in a speech to 350 new immigrants from North America at Ben-Gurion Airport that Dichter would “protect the home front, as he has done all his life.”

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