Israel's security is not dependent on new elections

The one interest diplomatically that Netanyahu has in advancing elections is that it would put to end an to the uncertainty some countries now have toward Israel.

March 13, 2018 02:06
4 minute read.
Israel's security is not dependent on new elections

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, March 2, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)


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As the coalition crisis continues to drag on, many are the reasons being offered why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, or is not, interested in new elections.

Among the reasons given for his wanting to go to the people now is that he is confident of a victory, and that if he wins an election now, even under the shadow of a possible indictment on any of the number of affairs under investigation, then he will have a much stronger argument to remain in power if Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit decides to serve an indictment.

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The reasoning goes like this: If there are no elections and Mandelblit hands down an indictment, there may be pressure for him to step down before the cases go to court under the argument that while a prime minister can continue to serve even if an indictment is issued, it is unseemly. If, however, the public is aware of all the various affairs and decides to vote Netanyahu in yet again anyhow, there will be far less pressure on the prime minister to step down after an indictment and before the cases go to court.

On the contrary, there are those arguing that Netanyahu has no interest in going to elections now because of the investigations.

According to this line of thinking, while the polls seem to be smiling on the prime minister now, polls are fickle, and it would be a gamble to dissolve the present government in the hope that the future government could be stronger. When Netanyahu called early elections in 2015, his position in the polls was also strong. But it was whittled away during the campaign, and he did not return to power with a stronger government.

Furthermore, as sources close to Netanyahu said in Washington last week, you know your situation when you go into elections, but there are no guarantees as to what will be coming out of them. In other words, there are no certainties, and even though the polls show Netanyahu gaining strength in the next elections, going there is still a considerable gamble.

Both these arguments deal with domestic considerations and are obviously the most important ones. But there are also diplomatic issues at stake now, and the question is whether calling early elections helps or hinders Netanyahu and Israel on the international scene.

Regarding the Palestinian issue, since there is not a great deal percolating right now, new elections will not impact a diplomatic process because there is no process to speak of. If anything, the lack of movement on the political track may make it a good time for him to go to the polls.

If Netanyahu waits much longer to go to elections, the US may present its much-discussed peace plan that is expected to demand concessions from both Israel and the Palestinians. No candidate who needs support from right-wing voters wants to go the polls under pressure of having to make concessions.

Whether Netanyahu calls new elections would also have no bearing on the Iranian nuclear deal. That issue is pending US President Donald Trump’s decision, which he will have to make within some 60 days, to either alter the deal or walk away from it. New elections in Israel would not impact on that decision.

Some, however, are saying that a period of electoral limbo and potential governmental confusion would invite aggressive behavior by any number of Israel’s enemies. Iran, for example, which just recently sent a drone into Israel, might think this would be a good time to test the Jewish state.

History, however, shows that Israel has no qualms about taking significant military actions in the midst of election campaigns. Some, in fact, argue that sitting prime ministers like to take significant military action during campaigns, as it boosts popularity with a population that tends to unite and rally around the flag in times of crisis.

For instance, Menachem Begin attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, just six months before an election; Shimon Peres launched Operation Grapes of Wrath in Lebanon in 1996 just weeks before the election he barely lost to Netanyahu; Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was launched by a Kadima government in December 2008, just two months before the 2009 elections; and the Netanyahu government launched Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza in November 2012, about eight weeks before the 2013 elections.

Elections, therefore, need not have any bearing on security decisions.

The one interest diplomatically that Netanyahu has in advancing elections is that it would put to end an to the uncertainty some countries now have toward Israel.

While governments abroad continue to deal with the current government regardless of the revelations each night on the news, the investigations and political uncertainty do generate a certain wait-and-see attitude. Do you invite Netanyahu to visit, not knowing whether he will be in power in a few months? Do you plan a visit to Israel yourself, not knowing who is going to be in power when you want to visit?

In fact, while Netanyahu has traveled extensively since the beginning of the year, there have been relatively few high-level visits here, with only four foreign ministers and not a single head of government or state having visited since January 1. Does this mean Israel has fallen out of favor? Not at all. It does indicate, however, that the world is trying to figure out who will be in charge in a few months’ time.

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