An appointment that smacks of panic and paranoia

As Iran’s centrifuges spin, Netanyahu is prioritizing spinning political wheels to ensure his political survival.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a memorial ceremony for the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem as Israel marks the 22nd anniversary of Rabin's killing by an ultra-nationalist Jewish assassin, November 1, 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a memorial ceremony for the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem as Israel marks the 22nd anniversary of Rabin's killing by an ultra-nationalist Jewish assassin, November 1, 2017
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to appoint Naftali Bennett as defense minister signals just how desperate Netanyahu has become as he seeks to somehow cling to power.
While the real world is more exercised by Iran’s fateful decision to resume enriching uranium at its underground Fordow facility – which raises the possibility that Tehran is preparing for a rapid nuclear breakout, according to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – our prime minister is busy in his Balfour Street bunker frantically searching for any madcap solution to his political predicament.
In his manic determination to avoid the possibility of facing criminal charges without the protective mantle of the premiership around his shoulders, Netanyahu refuses to accept the fact that he has lost two consecutive elections in the space of the year, and that the time has come for the Likud to present a fresh face as leader to the electorate.
As Iran’s centrifuges spin, Netanyahu is prioritizing spinning political wheels to ensure his political survival, either by direct action, such as Bennett’s appointment, or through the use of ministerial intermediaries. First came Shas leader Arye Deri’s ridiculous trial balloon of calling for a one-off direct election between Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for the position of prime minister.
Aside from the obvious point that such an election would do nothing to change the current situation in which neither Netanyahu nor Gantz has a majority in the Knesset to win a vote of confidence in a new government, the cynicism behind the proposed move is breathtaking.
Changing the rules of the game while in the middle of the electoral process is a maneuver worthy only of a banana republic. No democratic setup is perfect – just look at the American system, in which Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million ballots and still lost the electoral college and the presidency to Donald Trump – but any change needs to be carefully considered and not implemented bang in the middle of attempts at forming a governing coalition.
And then, after this trial balloon deservedly fell flat, Netanyahu lackey Amir Ohana flagrantly broke a court-imposed gag order in order to intimidate Nir Hefetz, a onetime Netanyahu loyalist turned state’s witness against his former boss, and draw attention away from Netanyahu’s alleged crimes.
Shamelessly abusing his Knesset immunity and sadly debasing his position as justice minister, Ohana used his privileged position to seek to undermine the police investigation against the prime minister and threaten a state’s witness in the ugly fashion of a criminal mob boss.
In a parallel universe, in which the prime minister is not facing an indictment, it would have been clear from Ohana’s first day in office, when he said not all court rulings need to be obeyed, that such a politician is totally unsuitable to hold the justice portfolio. But in Netanyahu’s dystopian world, in which evading trial is his main concern, Ohana has his uses for the prime minister.
Which is more than can be said for Bennett.
Netanyahu’s surprising decision at the weekend to appoint the leader of the New Right brings no real benefit to the prime minister and perhaps even threatens him in the long run. The appointment smacks only of paranoia and panic.
Despite reports that Blue and White had offered two ministerial posts to the three-member New Right Knesset faction in return for them abandoning Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing parties, there was never any danger for the prime minister of Bennett and Ayelet Shaked defecting to Gantz. Their whole political endgame has been to engineer a move back to the Likud (their natural home) in the post-Netanyahu era. Breaking from the bloc at this point would have crushed those plans, as they would rightly have been seen as being disloyal to the national camp.
The wise move for Netanyahu would have been to stay calm and not be spooked by any reports of meetings between Bennett and Gantz. But instead the prime minister panicked and not only gave Bennett his dream job as defense minister – something he refused to do when Avigdor Liberman resigned and Bennett headed a much larger Knesset faction – he also agreed to merge the New Right with the Likud in the Knesset.
So now, not only is Bennett – a man Netanyahu not so long ago labeled as childish and irresponsible – the defense minister, he is the Likud faction’s defense minister, which will automatically increase Bennett’s standing within the Likud. Come leadership election time, given the glory surrounding the position, the defense portfolio is the best springboard from which to launch a campaign.
In the past, Netanyahu always shied away from promoting anyone with clear leadership ambitions to a key ministerial post. In his long spell as prime minister, Netanyahu has carefully avoided creating a natural successor. Now, in a desperate and unnecessary attempt to prevent Gantz from forming a government, Netanyahu might just be sowing the seeds of the end of his political career.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.


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