Amid sinking polls and withering criticism from former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took to the airwaves Sunday morning with a clear message to voters: he can only succeed in a second term with a strong party behind him.
Netanyahu's plea comes as polls indicate that the Likud is hemorrhaging support to parties to its right, especially Bayit Yehudi.
To face Israel's enormous challenges, he said in a rare early morning Israel Radio interview, "I need a larger governing party."
The prime minister declined to deal head-on with Diskin's criticism, which appeared spread over six pages of Yediot Aharonot on Friday, saying only that his critics need to decide whether he is infused with a messianic complex, as Diskin claimed, or acts out of self-interest, rather than national interests, something else Diskin charged.
"Those who attack me should decide what tack they want to take," he said, since the two tendencies – a messianic complex and pure self interest – are contradictory.
Netanyahu said the voters were "smart enough" to not be swayed by Diskin's words, aware that under the current government the country's security has been strengthened, an international coalition was mobilized against Iran, Operation Pillar of Defense severely damaged Hamas, and the security fence in the south was built.
Netanyahu said preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons will be the main priority of another term. He listed other objectives as having Iron Dome batteries provide cover for the entire country, build a security fence – similar to the one just completed in the south – on each of Israel's borders, tend to the economy, create more jobs and bring down the price of housing.
Amid increased talks of renewed talks between Iran and the world powers – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – Netanyahu reiterated Israel's position that Iran must stop all uranium enrichment, export out of the country all of the enriched uranium, and close the underground enrichment facility at Fordow.
This position is at odds with what is believed to be the US position: namely, that the Iranians will be allowed to enrich uranium for civilian purposes.
Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich criticized Netanyahu's comments, saying
the prime minister failed to provide "a vision, hope or plans for the
future," instead, these comments "only deal with intimidation and
"It is obvious that this is a panicked
reaction to the fact the Labor party re-started the election campaign
last week, and that it is now a clear and distinct alternative to the
voters," Yacimovich added.
The Tzipi Linvi Party also accused
Netanyahu of using intimidation because he is afraid of the possibility
the Center-Left bloc would unite against him, saying the prime
minister's "smugness transformed into stress."
"With the real
threats that we are faced, Israel needs an initiating and level-headed
leadership, and not a stressed leadership that makes decisions with a
glass of liquor and cigars," the party said in a statement.
Regarding the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, Netanyahu dismissed Diskin's criticism that he has not done enough to push that process forward, saying it was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who has avoided negotiations.
Netanyahu said any agreement must include a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, a declaration of an end to the conflict, and a demilitarized Palestinian state. He clarified that these terms would be the outcome of negotiations, but were not preconditions to the starting of the negotiations. It is the Palestinians, not Israel, which has put pre-conditions on the talks, he said.
Responding to criticism by Yair Shamir, the number four on the joint Likud Beytenu list, that he zigzags, Netanyahu said that he learned from his own father that there are eternal values – protecting the Jewish people, commitment to the land and ensuring the Jew's future on it – but "from time to time you see a changing diplomatic situation, and in the situation you work – for the sake of those permanent values – but act according to what you see [at the time] on the ground."
JPost.com staff contributed to this report.