Bibi May Not Want to Go Home

Bibi May Not Want to Go Home

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will return home after sailing through his week in America without having had to address his domestic political problems. He is facing four separate legal investigations which continued to move forward while the Prime Minister made the rounds in Washington and New York.  He was totally focused while in the United States on Iran and the strength of his personal as well as his political relationship with President Trump; both in his visit at the White House and his appearance before AIPAC.   

Certainly the matter of Iranian mischief in Syria; the Iranian nuclear weapons deal; his recommendation to the Trump to renegotiate or abrogate the deal; his call for increased sanctions at a minimum; and the potential nuclear threat that Iran continues to pose for Israel were discussed both in public and private. 

Even in Vice President Pence’s remarks to the AIPAC conference, Pence sought to underscore the Administration’s support for Israel. The Vice President indicated that the U.S. would take action against Iran or its surrogates should Israel be endangered. (The problem with that strategy is that it could place Israel in a position of having to rely on a President whose consideration of any strategy on any issue appears to be subject to change literally at any moment. An even more nefarious possibility would be that Trump would need to clear such a decision with Russia to avoid possible blackmail.)

Netanyahu, however, may have been making his last political tour in Washington. By the time the Knesset adjourns its winter session on March 18, Bibi’s Government must have a budget in place. At the moment passage of that budget is being held hostage by Israel’s charedi ultra-orthodox religious parties which have demanded that all further military conscription of charedi men cease. In fact, they want this action to be incorporated into Israel’s Basic Law (the equivalent of Israel’s Constitution.) If they fail to get such a provision, these parties have threatened to quit Bibi’s Government.

At the same time, Netanyahu’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon who is responsible for the budget said he would pull his Kulanu Party out of the Government if a budget is not passed. Similarly, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who heads the Yisrael Beitenu Party has declared that he would withdraw his party out of the Government, if Netanyahu complies with the demands of the charedi parties.

All of this maneuvering is occurring while Netanyahu continues to denounce all the serious legal charges against him. He also suggests with typical bravado that if his coalition partners do not comply with how he resolves this crisis over charedi military conscription, he is ready to call for elections in June.

Whether Netanyahu is bluffing on either score is not clear. What is obvious is that Bibi probably has never functioned politically from such a weak base. He may believe he is a true security expert which Israel requires during these crucial times of crisis with Iran. The difficulty is that at this moment, while many of his critics admire his security expertise, they recognize that he is politically more vulnerable than ever before. This is something that his challengers can exploit at  this time for their own political ends.

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