Operation Calculated Revenge: Kahlon takes on Netanyahu

Netanyahu sees himself as the super-minister over every ministry, especially finance, where he served a decade ago.

April 19, 2017 15:40
4 minute read.
Netanyahu and Kahlon

Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after signing the coalition agreement. (photo credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)

It was handled like a confidential military operation.

Only six people were informed about the details and were sworn to secrecy.

There were three goals: helping Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s middle class constituency, restoring his political fortunes, and most of all, revenge against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In recent months, Kahlon had grown increasingly furious at the prime minister.

Netanyahu knows how to get under Kahlon’s skin and had been succeeding all too well.

As Netanyahu had done to ministers before, whenever Kahlon achieved a success, Netanyahu showed up suddenly to join him in the limelight and steal credit. Whenever there was failure for which one of them would be blamed, Netanyahu made sure that Kahlon would receive the brunt of it.

Two months ago, Kahlon planned a trip to China, in which deals were to be signed that would bring a windfall to the State of Israel. Kahlon was to represent Israel with great fanfare and would have been photographed victorious near the Great Wall of China.

All of a sudden, Netanyahu planned his own trip to Beijing, forcing Kahlon to cancel his.

Kahlon’s flagship housing program offered homes at a lower price to young couples who can’t afford the soaring real estate rates. When it came time to unveil the plan in Bet Shemesh, Netanyahu was an unexpected and unwanted guest, and it was clear on Kahlon’s face at the event.

Netanyahu sees himself as the super-minister over every ministry, especially finance, where he served a decade ago.

The incident that angered Kahlon the most was public broadcasting, a matter the finance minister could not care less about. Kahlon never intended to be involved in the fate of the public broadcasting corporation and the Israel Broadcasting Authority, but Netanyahu nearly ensured that Israel would go to elections about public broadcasting and Kahlon would be blamed. Had those elections been initiated, Kahlon’s Kulanu party could have been wiped off the political map. The last thing Kahlon needed before keeping his promise to solve the housing crisis was an election.

Kahlon had a limited time to get his revenge. It had to be during the time when Netanyahu was vulnerable, before the public broadcasting reform the prime minister cares so deeply about was passed into law.

The issue chosen for Kahlon’s plan was helping young families, a matter dear to his heart and that of his electorate.

As a sweetener, he threw in removing a tax on cell phones, which would remind the public that when he was communications minister, he lowered cell phone service charges dramatically.

The plan helps every family with small children significantly in making ends meet. Kahlon knew that at any point, Netanyahu could announce his own plan, using the same available funding, so he had to act soon. The day chosen for the operation was the day after Passover, when Kahlon knew Netanyahu would be busy with celebrations of Mimouna, a holiday especially dear to the prime minister’s Likud constituents. Kahlon found out what time Netanyahu would be especially unreachable in Dimona, far away from Tel Aviv.

Only an hour before the press conference were additional senior officials told about it, beyond the original six.

The senior officials included the heads of Finance Ministry departments, who were summoned and told only then, and Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen.

Cohen, who represents and serves Shas leader Arye Deri in the ministry, was not given a chance to inform his boss, out of fear that Deri would spill the beans to Netanyahu. Only after the senior officials were told was an invitation sent to economic reporters for the hastily called press conference.

They were not told what the press conference was about, but it was made clear to them that it would be worth their while to come.

Netanyahu found out about the press conference from the media. Sources close to Kahlon said they took into account that Netanyahu could be angry enough to call elections. The prime minister was put in an awkward position, much like Netanyahu did to Kahlon over public broadcasting. It would have looked bad for Netanyahu to initiate an election to block benefits given to young families. Netanyahu gave in and released a positive message about Kahlon’s plan to diplomatic reporters.

But coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud), who has a nasty temper, was harder to placate. He threatened to block Kahlon’s plan from passing in the Knesset. He also tried to rile up opposition from coalition partners who were also left in the dark. They worked on a joint message against Kahlon that was only shelved when Israel Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman strongly objected.

The operation ended up succeeding, proving that Kahlon could beat Netanyahu at his own game and obtain his long desired revenge.

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