IDF Soldiers 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If Kadima had a patent on the name “Operation Cast Lead,” it could have made
good money in the past 24 hours from the number of times that Likud security
hard-liners, including MKs Miri Regev and Danny Danon, invoked as a threat the
name of the 2008 operation carried out in the last weeks of the Olmert
Rockets are falling in the south, inching toward the Tel
Aviv suburbs and Jerusalem, a bellwether for internal security, experienced
Thursday its first major bombing in years. At the highest levels of the
government, an air of wait-and-see prevails.
But the political climate is
anything but quiet regarding calls for tough action against terror, particularly
in the Gaza Strip.
The coalition – and the opposition – are rattling
Although security and diplomatic considerations certainly
should trump political ones in deciding to call out the troops, political
concerns frequently follow close behind. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is no
stranger to security as a political asset, but could it play against him this
time? In 1996, Binyamin Netanyahu bet an election on the slogan promising peace
with security. In a story that would become one of the apocryphal tales of
modern-day Israeli politics, Netanyahu initially suffered from a 20-point
deficit in the polls behind his only opponent, then-prime minister Shimon Peres.
But as spring 1996 drew Israel closer and closer to the polls, a series of
suicide attacks – including the back-to-back bombings of Jerusalem’s Number 18
bus – killed 59 Israelis. Peres’s support plummeted – by two days before the
election, the incumbent’s lead had decreased to 2%. The free-fall continued, and
Netanyahu emerged victorious by a historically miniscule margin of 29,457
Netanyahu’s American campaign style combined well with his simple
message that he could bring Israelis the security that they craved in the shadow
of shattered post-Oslo optimism.
Now, ironically, a decade and a half
later, Netanyahu has to ask again: will security sell? Elections are still far
away, but the prime minister, who has a reputation as an ardent poll-watcher,
knows what every Israeli political hack has noted in recent months: Kadima is
ahead. Furthermore, on Netanyahu’s right, Israel Beiteinu threatens to grab
votes away from the Likud among those who could be disappointed should the
government fail to act aggressively against terror.
Lieberman could play
Netanyahu, in other words, to Netanyahu’s Peres.
A strong operation
against terror – if it was successful – could help Netanyahu regain support on
the right, support lost over everything from his Bar-Ilan University two-state
speech to the 10-month settlement freeze, and that continues to slip as Likud
hard-liners repeat calls for action against Hamas in Gaza without receiving an
Netanyahu, however, also has points to lose in such an operation.
He cannot ignore the possibility of a second Goldstone Report, of providing more
meat for Kadima’s constant chorus that the prime minister is isolating Israel on
the international scene.
Sitting proverbially next to Netanyahu is a man
who has nothing to lose.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has nowhere to go
but up in the polls, as the leader of a faction that currently seems unlikely to
surpass the minimum number of votes to make it into the Knesset.
latest scenario bandied about in Jerusalem is that Barak will try and find
himself a place in the Likud Knesset list.
Likud insiders do not believe
that Netanyahu will be able to offer Barak a guaranteed slot, meaning that the
former Labor leader would have to run in the party’s primaries. Barak would need
to enlist support among people in the party who were his rivals for almost two
What better way to generate support on the right than pushing
for – and then standing at the head of – a successful operation in Gaza? Barak
may have been accused of reluctance in Operation Cast Lead, but he has much less
to lose in Spring 2011 than in Winter 2008 – at least
Ultimately, as in 2008, or before that in 2004, the decision
to launch a major operation in Gaza is likely to have more to do with Kassams
and Grads than with polls.
But if – or when – the tanks and APCs roll
into Khan Yunis or Gaza City, the opinion poll considerations won’t be far