Israel's gov't is in a mutually-assured-destruction deal - will it work?

It will soon be clear whether the mutually assured destruction clause was as successful in preventing the coalition’s breakup as it was in preventing World War III.

 Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid with Prime Minister Naftali Bennet and Idit Silman attend a plenary session at the assembly of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, June 28, 2021 (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid with Prime Minister Naftali Bennet and Idit Silman attend a plenary session at the assembly of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, June 28, 2021
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

During the Cold War, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction deterred both the United States and Soviet Union from using nuclear weapons against each other and annihilating the world.

When the current government was formed, there was also mistrust among the parties, so they built in what they called a “mutually assured destruction mechanism” to deter the right-wing and center-left blocs in the coalition from annihilating it from within.

“We locked in mutually assured destruction to make sure each side would have what to lose, and it has worked very well,” a Yamina official said.    

The clause says that if MKs from Yamina or New Hope bring down the government before the rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid would become caretaker prime minister during elections and until a new government is formed. Bennett was able to use the clause to deter Yamina MKs Nir Orbach and Abir Kara from bringing down the government and enabling Lapid’s premiership.

It says that if any of the parties in Lapid’s bloc bring down the government, Bennett would remain caretaker prime minister and the rotation would not happen. It is no wonder that since the disturbances on the Temple Mount began, Lapid has done everything possible to calm down Ra’am (United Arab List) leader Mansour Abbas.

 WITHOUT ABBAS, Naftali Bennett would not have become prime minister. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI) WITHOUT ABBAS, Naftali Bennett would not have become prime minister. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI)

Lapid persuaded Abbas to limit his protest against the government to “freezing” his party’s membership in the coalition rather than leaving outright. Joint List MK Ofer Cassif mocked the announcement, tweeting that freezing membership in the coalition during the Knesset’s recess was like starting a diet during Ramadan.

The problem for Lapid was that the press learned he had worked out the arrangement and reported it, making Abbas look insincere to his voters who are angry about what they saw as Israeli steps against their holy site. Lapid and Abbas needed that to come out only after the situation in Jerusalem had calmed.

To make up for those reports, Abbas had to go one step further and say to KAN’s Arabic radio station on Monday that freezing its membership in the coalition could lead his party to leave permanently.

Keeping Abbas in the coalition is essential for Lapid’s plans to become prime minister, so his efforts to calm the situation will continue. Abbas cannot be seen by his constituency to be retaining Bennett in the prime minister’s chair while leaving and losing all the benefits his sector received in the coalition agreement.  

At various points, the clause, which was enshrined in the Basic Law, has also deterred Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman.

“When we set up the government, it was important to us that the only way we would be blamed for bringing it down would be if our party or Sa’ar’s party would bring it down,” the Yamina official said. “If it was for anyone in Lapid’s bloc, that’s not our fault. It was to create deterrence so Lapid couldn’t go to elections if he was doing very well in the polls.”

There are still three weeks left before the Knesset returns from recess. But Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich sent a request to Knesset speaker Mickey Levy on Monday to hold a special meeting of the Knesset plenum in order to vote on a bill to dissolve the 24th Knesset.

It will soon be clear whether the mutually assured destruction clause was as successful in preventing the coalition’s breakup as it was in preventing World War III.