Analysis: The cabal of the commandos

When Netanyahu said he wanted a unity government, he always had Labor in mind.

March 19, 2009 01:52
3 minute read.
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Netanyahu and Barak shake hands 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski [file])

Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu joined forces on May 8, 1972, when both were commandos in Sayeret Matkal, the elite General Staff Reconnaissance unit, to free the passengers of hijacked Sabena Flight 572. Barak led 16 commandos in the successful operation at Lod Airport, among them Netanyahu, who was accidentally shot by one of the rescue team members during the operation. But Netanyahu and Barak have never joined forces politically. They each rose to become prime minister and each left the Prime Minister's Office earlier than they had intended. Polls taken over the last few years that asked Israelis who their best and worst prime ministers were, consistently placed Barak, followed by Netanyahu, at the top of the bad list. Both men made large sums of money on the lecture circuit and in business during their political exile following their premiership and then made political comebacks, with Netanyahu's succeeding much more than Barak's. Now, 37 years after the Sabena operation, Netanyahu and Barak want to preside over the country together, this time with Netanyahu as the commander. That commando operation took just 10 minutes to execute. The operation they orchestrated to build a government together has taken more time, but was just as meticulously thought out. Sources close to the two men say they grew closer and earned each other's trust over the last year and a half, when Barak was defense minister and Netanyahu opposition leader. They had many meetings about the security situation and realized that they understood each other. Even before Kadima leader Tzipi Livni's efforts to form a government failed and elections were initiated, Netanyahu and Barak talked about forming a coalition together and handling the Iranian threat as a team. When Netanyahu said repeatedly during the campaign that he wanted a national unity government and that not forming one had been his worst political mistake, he always had Labor in mind and not Kadima, which he hoped would languish and ideally split in the opposition. But his associates always added a caveat: that Barak needed to win 15 seats in the election to be strong enough to bring his party into the coalition. Over the past three weeks, Netanyahu has had many meetings with top security officials to prepare himself for his entrance into the Prime Minister's Office. The meetings convinced Netanyahu, who has been criticized in the past for fear-mongering, that the threats Israel is facing were graver than he had thought and that he needed Barak to help deal with them. The same happened during his briefings about the threats to the economy with top economic officials, business leaders and Histadrut Labor Federation chief Ofer Eini. Netanyahu realized that it was not mere campaign rhetoric to say he needed a wide and stable government, but an absolute necessity for the country's future. That's why Netanyahu visited Barak's Tel Aviv penthouse on Sunday night and persuaded the Labor chairman to return to their original plan of building a government together. Since then, talks with Shas were purposely stalled, with Shas's acquiescence, to allow Barak to build support in his party for joining the government. The message Netanyahu released on Wednesday afternoon praising Labor's leaders for their experience and officially calling upon them to join his government was worded by Netanyahu and Barak together. But Barak will not have an easy time winning his party's support for joining the coalition. He will face nonstop fire from within his faction ahead of Tuesday's decisive Labor convention. The most decorated soldier in the history of the IDF does not have the same reputation on the political battlefield. If Barak fails to execute his operation to bring Labor into the government, his political career might be over, even as his former subordinate sets off to command the nation. But if the cabal of the two commandos succeeds, Netanyahu and Barak will work together to pilot Israel to a safe haven.

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