A Government Running Wild
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
It appears that almost every six months or so the Netanyahu Government suggests that one of its ministers misspoke in a comment contradicting Israeli policy vis-à-vis the U.S. The Netanyahu Government invariably creates confrontations between Bibi and Obama with no purpose except to annoy or frustrate the Americans and rally its right-wing supporters.
The original flap occurred during Vice-President Joe Biden’s first visit to Israel in March 2010, when the Israeli Housing Minister announced that Israel was building 1600 new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem, just after Biden had delivered a spirited speech affirming U.S. support for Israeli security. Netanyahu subsequently announced that the Minister had spoken out of turn. To accept the fact that this preposterous probability could have happened without Bibi’s knowledge and approval—especially knowing the U.S. Government’s criticism of Israel’s settlement policy and coming in the midst of a state visit from the American Vice-President—stretches the all credulity.
Beginning last Thursday into Friday the same type of political development occurred concerning Israel’s satisfaction with Iranian compliance or non-compliance with the P5+1-Iran agreement; a matter of serious bi-lateral and international focus. At a press conference on Thursday, Obama remarked that Israel concurred with the U.S.’s appraisal that to date the Iranian deal had not created any significant unsettledness. On Friday a statement was released by the Israel Defense Ministry—now believed to have been the position of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman—that Israel views the Iran Agreement as bad for the world as was the 1938 Munich Agreement with Hitler. By Saturday night the Prime Minister was distancing himself from the statement and replied, somewhat obscurely, that Israel views the U.S. as Israel’s true friend.
The question is not what Israel feels today about the agreement; although though that is genuinely crucial. Rather, the time has arrived that even critical national security statements and positions in Israel are now being flagrantly tossed about and cultivated for political positioning, with virtually total disregard for their geopolitical consequences. Assuming that Lieberman did believe that the agreement with Iran was still very tenuous, there certainly are ways both within his Government and with the U.S. to communicate those views.
Responsibility for the remarks of any minister, especially those of the critical Defense Minister, are ultimately the responsibility of the Prime Minister. Netanyahu cannot avoid acknowledging that fact. If he agrees with the comments of the Defense Ministry–which is quite conceivable—than he cannot feign ignorance. If he genuinely does not agree with these comments than his entire Government is totally out of control, with ministers bearing no corporate responsibility to themselves, the Knesset, or the country. Political leadership of a coalition Government is tricky and difficult, but out of control ministers need to be rebuked. If not the Government is a multi-pronged operation with no one in control leading to a dangerous, runaway, operation.