Analysis: Is Israel's Mr. Security in danger?

It is a strange irony in Israel that the better a government is faring in the polls, the more likely there is to be an election.

Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benjamin Netanyahu
In the past week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced fierce attacks from the Right by Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, from the Left by opposition leader Isaac Herzog, and from both Right and Left by his former No. 2 in the Likud, Gideon Sa’ar.
The attacks from the Right focused on Netanyahu’s inability to end the current wave of Palestinian violence.
Polls have shown that three-quarters of Israelis are upset with Netanyahu’s handing of the security situation, leaving the man who has been known as “Mr. Security” politically vulnerable.
This is significant because in the March 17, 2015, election, those who put security as their top priority voted overwhelmingly for Netanyahu’s Likud party. It was no coincidence that the Likud fared much better in the election than final polls predicted a few days before the vote – polls taken around the same time that Netanyahu announced that he would appoint Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon finance minister, a move that allowed socioeconomically minded voters to cast ballots on security.
Sensing that vulnerability, Liberman canceled his faction meeting Monday and headed to the site of a terrorist attack in Tekoa. Bennett, who is in the security cabinet, opened fire on both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), accusing them of lacking strategic thinking.
Bennett’s attack at the Institute for National Strategic Studies Ninth Annual International Conference in Tel Aviv may have been spurred by polls showing Liberman growing in strength by attacking Netanyahu from the opposition. The attack made the front pages of the newspapers, because it was criticism from ministers in his security cabinet that persuaded Netanyahu to initiate last year’s election But there is a difference between the attacks of then-ministers Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni following Operation Protective Edge in Gaza and Bennett’s now. Following the war, Netanyahu was doing well in the polls, his image as Mr. Security was reinforced, and he had an interest in seeking an early election.
The prime minister cannot go to the polls until he restores a sense of safety to the streets and supporters to his party. The coalition is stable precisely because none of its components has an interest in going to elections any time soon.
It is a strange irony in Israel that the better a government is faring in the polls, the more likely there is to be an election, and the worse a government is perceived as doing, the less likely it is to be replaced, because its leaders will try to stay in power and keep their jobs.
As part of that irony, if there were a public perception that there is a strong political alternative to Netanyahu, the government would be even more stable.
When will that happen? The biggest potential threat to Netanyahu is a former IDF chief of staff entering politics.
Former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi was cleared of criminal charges in the Harpaz Affair Wednesday.
His successor as chief of staff, Benny Gantz, could pose an even more serious threat. But it is very possible that both men will choose not to enter politics.
And what about Herzog? He gave a surprising speech at the INSS conference in which the leader of the Left admitted that the two-state solution cannot currently be achieved and called for completing the security barrier around settlement blocs.
He advertised the address the day before at the Zionist Union’s faction meeting, and he clearly worked on it for a long time.
But Herzog’s speech barely got noticed because it was overshadowed by Bennett’s, and polls show Yesh Atid taking seats away from the Zionist Union. It does not bode well for Herzog politically if he cannot attract attention even when he delivers a bombshell.
As long as Herzog remains the leader of the largest party on the Center-Left, Mr. Security can apparently still sleep soundly.