Netanyahu will keep making diplomatic moves without telling his ministers

POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Netanyahu will always have an excuse to keep his defense minister and foreign minister out of the loop. All he has to do is say the Americans asked to keep it private.

WILL NETANYAHU continue to keep his ministers in the shadows? (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
WILL NETANYAHU continue to keep his ministers in the shadows?
While Israel’s delegation was in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked at a press conference in Jerusalem whether he would tell Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi the next time he reaches an agreement with an Arab country.
Netanyahu’s answer, which came amid hopes for similar deals with Bahrain and Oman, was “I hope I will be able to tell them about the next agreements, but here there was a specific request not to.”
What that means is that Netanyahu will always have an excuse to keep his defense minister and foreign minister out of the loop. All he has to do is say the Americans asked to keep it private, and he can continue sending Mossad chief Yossi Cohen around the world to conduct diplomacy for him.
Netanyahu tried to do the same when he traveled to the United Arab Emirates and met with Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed two years ago, as was revealed in a report this week that was apparently leaked by his office. His defense minister at the time, Avigdor Liberman, revealed to the Knesset Channel on Tuesday that he knew about that visit, but from other sources, not from Netanyahu.
What Liberman said put in perspective how Gantz answered questions from The Jerusalem Post the day before about Netanyahu not informing him about the UAE deal.
“People ask me if [Netanyahu] updated me, and if I got offended or not, and I say it really doesn’t matter, and what really matters is that there is an agreement,” Gantz said in the interview, which will be published in the Post’s Rosh Hashanah supplement.
When told that “if it doesn’t matter, he won’t update you next time either,” Gantz was not disturbed.
“Fine,” he said. “I think he should have acted differently. But what matters is not what is good for me but what is good for the state. It’s not proper that he didn’t update me.”
The Post then asked Gantz: “Why didn’t Donald Trump or his people update you? You met with him in Washington. You have been building ties with them and leaders around the world. You know you can’t trust Netanyahu. You have no way of finding things out by bypassing him?”
Gantz responded: “I am just glad the agreement moved forward.”
SO ARE Gantz and Ashkenazi doomed to remain in the dark despite their lofty posts as alternate prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister?
The answer is that it depends how long they last and build their international ties.
Netanyahu has been in diplomatic and political roles since 1982, when he received his first diplomatic posting as an attaché in Washington. Liberman has been building his own international ties since he was first appointed foreign minister in 2009.
Both Gantz and Ashkenazi are relatively new to their jobs. Ashkenazi has been quickly building contacts with foreign ministers from around the world as part of his job, including what was seen as a successful first trip abroad to Germany to meet with European foreign ministers. Gantz wears many hats and is building ties gradually.
One past solution that prevented top ministers from being left in the dark was relying on ambassadors and other diplomats in the foreign service. But Netanyahu has gone a long way to weaken the Foreign Ministry.
And ambassadors did not leak key meetings by prime ministers in the past that were hidden from their top ministers. Foreign minister Shimon Peres negotiated with the Jordanians behind the back of prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, and with the Palestinians behind the back of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. As prime minister, Rabin negotiated and reached an agreement with the Jordanians behind the back of his foreign minister, Peres.
With such precedent, prime ministers will continue to go abroad in the future without telling their top ministers, and there is nothing anyone can really do about it.
Such secret trips raise questions like what would happen if the prime minister were abducted or harmed abroad? The technical answer given is that it is that very secrecy that prevents him from being harmed.
The more cynical political answer is that such a scenario may be the only way for Gantz to still become prime minister. His agreement with Netanyahu states that a rotation will happen in the Prime Minister’s Office in November 2021, 18 months after the government’s formation, but Gantz appeared in the interview to have accepted that he is unlikely to move to the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street.
“[Netanyahu] has an agenda of not fulfilling his commitment to a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office,” Gantz said. “I entered the government with a top priority of helping Israel and a secondary priority of the rotation, so if I achieve my top priority and not my second one, I won’t regret it.”
THE CONSOLATION prize for Gantz could be that his former political partner turned fierce critic, opposition leader Yair Lapid, would not become prime minister either. His chances took a hit on Wednesday when his longtime friend MK Ofer Shelah demanded a leadership primary in Yesh Atid to run against him.
Sources who were present at Gantz’s office when the news hit admitted that the reports were greeted with joy and laughter.
“Benny is not a man who is happy at the downfall of his enemies, so he wasn’t moved by the news, but his staff didn’t mind Lapid getting a taste of his own medicine,” a source close to Gantz said. “It is very fitting for someone who didn’t put his trust in his party leader that his own people end up not putting their trust in him.”
The reaction of Netanyahu’s associates was more complex. They were not upset to see a new challenge in the party that gets the second-most seats in the polls. But they admitted they were looking forward to Lapid being Netanyahu’s primary opponent whenever the next election will take place.
“Lapid is not a threat to us in any way, shape or form, and we don’t mind setting Lapid up as our opposition,” a source close to Netanyahu said.