Analysis of Netanyahu’s target: Kadima or Iran?

PM doesn't get enough MKs to leave Kadima in order to split the party, also gets his hands dirty.

Netanyahu and Mofaz 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu and Mofaz 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Likud politicians in closed conversations Monday that he knows the effort to split Kadima failed miserably.
Not only did he not get the seven MKs required to leave Kadima, in order to split the party, he also got his hands dirty in political horse trading. The prime minister was upset that the failed initiative tainted his genuine efforts to broker a compromise proposal on drafting yeshiva students.
So why did he do it? The first answer suggested by Netanyahu’s associates is one given by anyone who gets caught doing anything that looks bad: He thought he could get away with it.
Netanyahu respected former minister Tzachi Hanegbi’s political abilities. He thought Hanegbi could deliver at least seven Kadima MKs and probably more without too much hassle. He knew there would be bad headlines for a day or two but they would soon be forgotten.
The prime minister also wanted to widen the coalition again to help him work out a compromise on equalizing the burden of IDF service and pass the 2013 state budget.
But most of all, Netanyahu wanted support for whatever he will ultimately decide regarding how to handle Iran.
How does adding little-known MKs Avi Duan, Arieh Bibi, Yulia Shamolov Berkovich and Otniel Schneller connect to Iran? First of all, expanding the coalition could help him distance the next election.
Netanyahu is expected to win the next election despite the bad press he has gotten over the past two months.
But an election would likely mean the end of the political career of Ehud Barak, Netanyahu’s trusted defense minister and former commander in the IDF.
Widening the coalition from 66 to 73 MKs would prevent the 11-MK Shas faction from toppling Netanyahu, which is especially important now because Shas chairman Eli Yishai has decided that holding an election as soon as possible would help him politically. It was no wonder that Yishai was the source of headlines suggesting that Netanyahu was mulling initiating an expedited race.
Had Hanegbi delivered 10 Kadima MKs, Netanyahu could also avoid getting toppled by Avigdor Liberman’s 15-MK Yisrael Beytenu faction.
That was also important to Netanyahu, because at any point, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein could clear Liberman of corruption charges and Liberman would have an interest in initiating an election.
Netanyahu wanted to add Hanegbi to the cabinet because while he has dovish credentials from his years in Kadima, he is a strong proponent of taking military action if other methods to stop Iran’s nuclearization fail.
Hanegbi cited Iran as his main reason for defecting from Kadima back to the Likud in a long manifesto on his Facebook page.
“The stability of the government is essential to deal with the imminent downfall of Assad in Syria, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the international wave of terror sponsored by Iran and Hezbollah, and above all: This is the most fateful time on the Iranian issue,” Hanegbi wrote.
“The decision on Iran will impact on our lives more than any other decision that stands before us.”
In Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz’s Knesset press conference, he attacked the MKs who tried to leave Kadima, as was expected. He tried to paint Netanyahu as corrupt, as was expected. But Mofaz was not expected to connect the effort to split Kadima to Iran.
“Kadima will not risk operational adventures that will endanger our daughters and sons,” Mofaz said in a statement that appeared out of context with the rest of his speech.
He was later quoted as saying in closed conversations that “when the real reasons for the corrupt dance of Hanegbi and Netanyahu become clear, it will have to be investigated.”
Mofaz’s associates said he saw a direct connection between Netanyahu’s obsession with Iran and Hanegbi’s tough talk on the issue when he was Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman.
So it is possible that when Netanyahu authorized Hanegbi to negotiate with Kadima MKs, his real targets were not Duan, Bibi, Shamolov Berkovich and Schneller, but Natanz, Isfahan, Bushehr and Fordo.