Trump’s pre-election gift to Netanyahu

Likud will try to exploit the Iran flareup, Blue & White likely to ignore.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a conference in Jerusalem Wednesday. Will the US action in Iraq help his campaign? (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a conference in Jerusalem Wednesday. Will the US action in Iraq help his campaign?
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The 218-page Israeli Democracy Index of the Israel Democracy Institute is the most comprehensive annual poll taken of Israelis and a great way of gauging the national mood.
The most obvious headlines from the index were about the majority of Israelis declaring their leadership corrupt and giving the government poor grades.
But if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would read the study and look for a silver lining, he could find it in the numbers on security.
When asked if the state properly ensures the security of its citizens, 63% answered affirmatively. The answers were positive regardless of background and political affiliation, including Arabs and Jews who define themselves as left-wing.
By contrast, when a similar question was asked about whether the state properly ensures the welfare of its citizens, only 35% answered positively, and Jews on the Right were just as likely as the Left to kvetch.
It is no wonder that when Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was asked in a closed conversation this week what he would do, ahead of the March election, that would be different from what he did before the elections in April and September, he said the party would speak more to lower socioeconomic echelons.
To that end, Gantz went this week to Yeroham, where he spent years volunteering helping the southern development town’s education system, which was run by future Blue and White MK Chili Tropper and then-mayor turned Blue and White MK Michael Biton. Despite all the effort Blue and White put into Yeroham, the party won only 10% of the vote in September, and upping that number will be a major task for the party in March.
The Likud has also vowed to make a major effort to get out the vote in development towns in the South and the North, where Netanyahu was greeted like a rock star in rallies he held in his successful Likud leadership race against Gideon Sa’ar.
Netanyahu did surprisingly well in the race in Ashdod and Ashkelon, two cities where he himself had to embarrassingly flee the stage due to rocket attacks during his own rallies in September and December. He beat Sa’ar in Ashkelon 945 to 269 and in Ashdod 1,274 to 415.
Those numbers indicate that Israelis still vote on security, and that unlike in other countries, where a poor security situation is harmful to an incumbent, with Netanyahu he gains whether the security situation is good or bad. If it’s good, he is given credit for it, and if it’s bad, the voters feel more dependent on him to prevent it from getting worse.
That is why this week’s events in Iraq were a blessing for Bibi. The assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and the subsequent retaliation against American forces indicate that the security situation will dominate headlines between now and March 2, and the Likud intends to utilize that to help its campaign.
When the Likud’s campaign manager, Lod Mayor Yair Revivo, says the Likud will run a positive campaign, he means the party will focus on the security situation and Netanyahu’s accomplishments.
“Everyone knows that the prime minister woke up the world to the dangers of Iran and that [Blue and White MK Yair] Lapid warned that he was hurting relations with America by criticizing the previous US administration on Iran,” a Likud campaign official said. “But thanks to Netanyahu, the issue is on the international agenda and there is a US president who assassinated Soleimani and is saying that as long as he is president, there will be no nuclear Iran. This is a big accomplishment for Netanyahu.”
Asked if the Likud would continue using its September campaign slogan “a league of his own” to highlight Netanyahu’s relationship with US President Donald Trump, the campaign official said actions speak louder than words.
“What Donald Trump did proves the essence, not just slogans,” the campaign official said. “This reflects on the close relationship Netanyahu has with the president of the United States, which helps Israel.”
In other words, yes, expect the Likud campaign to feature clips of Netanyahu asking America to stop the nuclearization of Iran and Trump answering both with promises to do so and footage of the assassination, which prove that Netanyahu successfully persuaded the president to take action.
When Blue and White campaign officials were asked about that scenario, they unsurprisingly tried to change the subject.
“The campaign in its essence needs to respond to dynamics, but this is not one of them,” a Blue and White campaign official said. “[The Soleimani assassination] was far away from here. There is no security situation here. If there will be a security situation, we will respond, but it’s not immediate.”
Even when security problems were closer to home, Blue and White has been reluctant to focus on security issues, despite being led by three former IDF chiefs of staff. This has been because the party’s own polls have consistently indicated that the public is satisfied with Netanyahu on security issues, so it is better for Blue and White to focus on corruption.
“We have a ‘cockpit’ with vast security experience that we will, of course, emphasize,” the Blue and White campaign official said.” We feel comfortable with the security issue, and Israelis don’t see the immediate result of Trump’s actions.”
In other words, if Iran retaliates for the Soleimani assassination by attacking Israel, Blue and White will be ready to respond, but for now, it will not become a major campaign issue.
Blue and White was harmed by the assassination changing the subject away from Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution in his three criminal cases. The proceedings expected to take place in the Knesset on the issue will return the immunity issue to center stage, to Blue and White’s benefit.
It is even possible that if the Knesset House Committee is formed and votes to reject immunity, Netanyahu’s indictment will be submitted to the Jerusalem District Court in time for his trial to start before the election. That would be the ideal situation for Blue and White.
What ends up being the biggest issue in the headlines on the days before an election goes a long way toward deciding a race.
That is why Gantz spoke so forcefully against the US unveiling its long-awaited Middle East peace plan in the days ahead of the election. In meetings with American officials, Gantz has urged patience.
The problem for Gantz is that Trump has his own election coming up, and having Israel embrace a peace plan he presents could help him with his own political base.
Top Blue and White officials acknowledge that Netanyahu’s close relationship with Trump gives him an advantage.
“Trump thinks Bibi can help him,” a top Blue and White official said, acknowledging that it has already gone the other way.