Analysis: Looking into Netanyahu's mind

Whenever you wonder why Netanyahu is doing something, the safest bet is to offer three reasons: Iran, Iran, and Iran.

PM Netanyahu, Deputy PM Yaalon_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
PM Netanyahu, Deputy PM Yaalon_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s decision to initiate a Likud leadership race on January 31 didn’t just surprise his rivals in Likud and other parties.
It also puzzled political pundits, who immediately began to search for possible reasons that the prime minister had advanced the race, which was supposed to take place in spring 2013 – within the six months before the next general election, set for October 22 of that year.
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Explanations offered on the airwaves ranged from the vindictive to the downright silly. Various experts said the move was intended to preempt possibly damaging reports that would be issued over the next few months by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss regarding the Carmel Fire, the Gaza flotilla, and Netanyahu’s past travels abroad.
Some said it was part of an elaborate conspiracy to bring Netanyahu’s former commander in the IDF’s elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, into the safe political harbor of the Likud. But the most imaginative of political commentators conjured up a theory that it all had to do with the other Bara(c)k, the United States president.
The idea went as follows: Netanyahu wants to be ready to initiate a general election before the November 6 presidential election in the US, because Obama will win that race, and then, when he is unencumbered by having to get reelected, he will unleash his wrath on the Jewish state.
This complicated theory said Netanyahu wanted to avoid having to work for a year with a bolstered Obama while his own political future hung in the balance, and he was afraid the president would interfere in an Israeli election the way Bill Clinton helped Ehud Barak defeat him in 2009.
So that’s why 100,000 Likud members will be going to the polls next month?
Because Netanyahu doubts the Republicans will get their act together and defeat the president of the US? Israeli and American politics are hopelessly intertwined, but come on. Not that much.
The reason so many reasons were thrown up in the air was that the analysts did not trust the explanation offered by Netanyahu himself: “Along with saving millions for our party, we won’t have to get mired in internal struggles and we will be free later on to handle the security, diplomatic, and economic challenges before us.”
But that explanation should sound logical to anyone who has followed what Netanyahu has said and done over the past decade. Whenever you wonder why Netanyahu is doing something, the safest bet is to offer three reasons: Iran, Iran and Iran.
That’s where Netanyahu’s interests, hopes and fears lie. It shouldn’t be news that the prime minister has an obsession with preventing the nuclearization of Iran. The same day it was leaked that he was moving up the primary, he gave a speech in Sde Boker that was all one big hint at possible Israeli action against Iran.
So when Netanyahu says “security challenges before us,” it shouldn’t take a political expert to realize this is a euphemism for Iran that he uses repeatedly in almost every speech.
Netanyahu’s move was interpreted as a preemptive strike on political foes such as Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Likud activist Moshe Feiglin.
But with all due respect to Feiglin and the pundits, the prime minister has bigger fish to fry.