In political limbo, Netanyahu's every move is suddenly suspect

Every time Netanyahu does something, what's being discussed is primarily whether all of that was just an effort by Netanyahu to save his political skin.

Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: OHAD TZVEIGENBERG‏)
Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: OHAD TZVEIGENBERG‏)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump talked on the phone on Sunday, a conversation the White House said focused on Iran, and which Netanyahu characterized as “very important” for Israel’s security.
The call, the second between the two leaders in two weeks, comes amid rising tensions both with Iran and inside Iran, and a concern that the Iranians may attack Israel or US installations in the Middle East as a way of paradoxically trying to obtain sanctions relief, or to deflect attention from the heavy hand it has used putting down the recent wave of protests.
The Trump-Netanyahu call follows a month in which a parade of America’s top generals – concluding with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley – arrived in Israel for talks. Those visits, which also included the head of the US Air Force, Gen. David Goldfein, and the commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, are a sure sign that coordination between the two countries on Iran is now extremely close.
Beyond dealing with Iran, Netanyahu said, the conversation with Trump also dealt with establishing the Jordan Valley as Israel’s eastern border – a euphemism for annexing the area – and the establishment of a defense pact between the US and Israel.
But in a shining example of why this period of political limbo – which the country has now been in for more than a year – is so problematic, the public debate on Monday was not about the pros or cons of the proposed defense pact. Nor was it about whether annexing the Jordan Valley is beneficial or not, or even about the dangers/opportunities lurking/presenting themselves as a result of the current upheaval in Iran.
No, what was being discussed was primarily whether all of this was just an effort by Netanyahu to save his political skin.
“Blue and White under my leadership does not support any agreement that will limit operations undertaken by the State of Israel or the ability of the IDF to defend itself against the threats it faces,” said Benny Gantz after Netanyahu announced that the defense pact was discussed in the phone call with Trump.
“There arise serious concerns that a prime minister preoccupied by his own affairs may permit the limitation of our security forces’ freedom of action, in clear contradiction to the position held by our security mechanisms for decades,” Gantz added.
In other words, according to Gantz, Netanyahu’s advocating for this type of defense pact is simply because he is “preoccupied” with his own affairs.
Blue and White MK Yoav Segalovich was asked in an Army Radio interview whether it was really fair for Gantz to link the two issues, and for the Blue and White head to say that Netanyahu backed this idea simply for his own narrow personal interests. “There is a question mark now over Benjamin Netanyahu’s head regarding all his actions and all his words,” was his reply.
According to Segalovich, everything Netanyahu says, and everything he does, is somehow connected to his legal woes and difficult political situation. No decision the prime minister takes can be divorced from his present situation.
According to this reasoning, Netanyahu can’t be talking about this defense pact with Trump because he sincerely believes it is in the good of the country; he must be doing it only for his own good. The same holds true regarding the Jordan Valley annexation. Every action is suspect.
There was some talk earlier in the week that Netanyahu might travel on Tuesday to London, where a meeting of NATO leaders is being held, to meet with some of the world leaders there and discuss Iran.
On Monday that visit was apparently scrapped, reportedly because there was difficult lining up meetings with some of the leaders there, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and France’s Emmanuel Macron.
Had the visit transpired, Netanyahu’s critics inside Israel would have said it was all a show for domestic political reasons, an attempt to look statesmanlike even in the face of his legal challenges and the current political stalemate.
Netanyahu, in the past, has not had trouble setting up meetings with world leaders. But now they, too, might very well be wary of a high profile meeting for fear of being used as a political prop.
Or, as Segalovich said, there is a question mark hanging over Netanyahu’s head that calls into question everything he does – an unhealthy situation for this country to be in, especially with the Iranian issue on the doorstep. Critical decisions need to be made, but any decision that Netanyahu makes during this period of political limbo will be judged by many not on its merits, but rather on whether it was merely a cynical ploy taken by Netanyahu to serve his own personal interests.