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1967 All Over Again?

Israel’s new coalition echoes the unity government that came together on the eve of the Six Day War

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Top: Levi Eshkol and Moshe Dayan touring the West Bank in September 1967. Bottom: Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz during a joint press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 8, 2012. (Top Israel National Photo Collection; bottom Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

One thing’s certain: Tuesday’s sudden and dramatic expansion of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government—he now has the support of 94 Knesset members in the 120-seat house—considerably strengthens Netanyahu’s mandate to take what commentators insist on calling “historic steps.” But it is unclear whether the cooption of Shaul Mofaz and his Kadima faction makes an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities more likely or more remote.

We’ve been here before. Likud’s political coup carries echoes of another fateful moment: the establishment of a national unity government on June 1, 1967, the eve of the Six Day War, when Israel felt threatened by a burgeoning, militant Arab coalition headed by Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Back then, a left-wing government, led by Labor Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, was joined under popular pressure by right-wing parties (Menachem Begin’s Herut and Moshe Dayan’s Rafi) to present a united front mere days before Israel, on June 5, launched its devastating preemptive strike against Egypt.

Eshkol and Dayan could not have been more different. The prime minister was soft-spoken, with a wry sense of humor and European manners. Dayan, on the other hand, was brash, bold, and outspoken. One could only imagine how Eshkol felt when he had to abandon the ministry of defense—following Ben-Gurion’s precedent, the prime minister also claimed for himself what was clearly the Cabinet’s most important portfolio—forced by intense public pressure to hand it over to his polar opposite. But Eshkol made the difficult call for the sake of national security.

Today Israel faces the threat of a nuclear Iran—and the prospect of attacking Iranian nuclear facilities without a green light from Washington. But Mofaz is no Dayan.

The Iranian-born politician is known as “Mr. Zigzag”—the Israeli equivalent of flip-flopper. A former IDF paratroop commander and chief of general staff, back in the early 2000s Mofaz was a Likud stalwart (and defense minister). But he bolted the party, which he had called his “home,” in 2005 for Kadima when he realized he wouldn’t become the head of Likud. Six weeks ago, he was elected by Kadima’s rank and file as the new leader of the party, replacing Tzipi Livni, who had inherited Kadima leadership with the fall of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2009.

Just days ago, Mofaz vowed not to join Netanyahu’s “crumbling” government and had publicly called the prime minister “a liar” in whom he had no trust. During the past months, he has been a public and staunch opponent of bombing Iran anytime soon, arguing that the nuclear problem must be resolved by the international community through sanctions and diplomacy. In any case, he argued, there was still substantial time before the military option had to be considered.

And yet now, Mofaz will join Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a three-man kitchen Cabinet or the fuller eight-man “Inner Cabinet,” where the call of whether or not to launch a military strike against Iran will be decided. Both Netanyahu and Barak are on record as pessimists when it comes to the possibility that sanctions or diplomacy will stop Tehran’s march toward nuclear weapons. Both have made it clear that Israel will have to rely on its armed forces to resolve the problem, whether or not Washington gives Jerusalem a green light.

Thinking in Jerusalem is currently focused on the period between July, when a further round of sanctions against Iran will kick in, and the American presidential elections in November. Netanyahu and Barak believe that President Obama will find it very difficult to punish Israel for attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities just before the elections, since Obama will need the help of Jewish donors and voters, and other supporters of Israel, to win. On the other hand, an Israeli strike after the November elections will incur Obama’s wrath—and, some fear, could translate into sanctions against Israel.

No one knows whether Netanyahu elicited from Mofaz a secret promise to support, or at least a vow not to block, a strike against Iran as the price of his entry into the government, where he will serve as a minister without portfolio. But clearly Netanyahu—recently under attack from a number of senior defense figures, including Yuval Diskin, the former head of Shin Bet and ex-Mossad head Meir Dagan, both of whom oppose attacking Iran at present; and, more mutedly, by current IDF chief of general staff Benny Gantz, who said he doesn’t believe Iran will “go the extra mile” and build a bomb—was clearly happy to have Mofaz on board. With the backing of 94 MKs, Netanyahu will present a far more solid antagonist for Obama or any other external or internal doubting Thomases in the coming months.

Mofaz was eager to join the government. The day before striking the deal, the Cabinet had voted for early general elections, to be held on Sept. 4. Opinion polls had predicted that Netanyahu would triumph and emerge as the only politician able to form a new government. Meanwhile, Kadima was predicted to win fewer than 10 seats, which would have relegated Mofaz to political oblivion. (Currently, Kadima has 28 seats, won by Livni in the 2009 elections.) The opinion polls predicted that the lost Kadima seats would have been divided between Labor, with its current leader Shelly Yachimovich replacing Mofaz as leader of the opposition, and Yair Lapid, a popular journalist and son of former center-right politician Tommy Lapid. At least in the short term, Lapid and Yachimovich are the losers in the Netanyahu-Mofaz coup.

Mofaz and Netanyahu—who was not eager to hold general elections because a recent Supreme Court ruling demanded that the government remove an illegal West Bank settlement by July, which would have embroiled the prime minister in bitter controversy with his right-wing allies—have clearly come out the winners. But the Israeli public, too, may well have gained a genuinely unified government, which is why instant opinion polls suggested that the bulk of Israelis supports the Kadima-Likud alliance.

The public opposed early elections as a waste of money that would have delivered no real change. According to the official coalition deal signed between Mofaz and Netanyahu, the new government will promote legislation that will force the ultra-Orthodox community to, at long last, send its sons to do military or other national service and join the labor market (until now, they have basically lived off state subsidies, paid for by the taxes of the largely secular middle and working classes). Getting the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the army and work has been a basic demand of most Israelis, left and right, for decades.

Netanyahu and Mofaz have also agreed to radically change the Israeli political system, which is based on proportional representation. The system has tended to give small, mainly religious parties too much power and the ability to extort political concessions and financial subsidies from the coalitions in which they almost inevitably participate. (Yet most Israeli political commentators have suggested that Netanyahu will balk at implementing such reform, fearing that next time around, the religious parties will take revenge by preferring Labor or a centrist party to the Likud as their potential coalition partners.)

Lastly, Mofaz and Netanyahu agreed to make concessions to last year’s street protesters, who demanded increased government subsidies in education, housing, and other services. Whether the new coalition will indeed deliver is yet to be seen.

Most Israelis are now thinking about their summer vacations in Europe or their unpaid bills (or both). Not Netanyahu. Last week, Netanyahu buried his 102-year-old father, Benzion Netanyahu, a historian of the Spanish Inquisition and, in the 1930s, a vociferous publicist and prophet warning against the impending Holocaust. In interviews in recent years, the elder Netanyahu loudly decried the Iranian nuclear project as a threat to Israel’s very existence. His son, who has in the past three years repeatedly compared Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler, clearly sees neutralizing the Iranian threat as his historic duty and future legacy. He may well have given his father his word on this.

In 1967, the Eshkol-Dayan coalition was a prelude to war. Was adding Mofaz—and 27 other Kadima members of Knesset—part of Netanyahu’s strategy to carry out a risky mission against a similarly brutal enemy? Stay tuned.

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It aint 1967, its 2012 and even though Israel has won all its wars, today its a different’war game’! Tanks and Infantry of 67 is over!  Its drones and robots “Enola gay” bombers.  Nuke Subs and the fight aganst terror! “Hear oh Israel” get your act together, the neo Huns and the “Hitlers’ in Iran are planning to march to Jerusalem’s gates!  “Never Again”! Internacine fighting only aids the enemy.

The American presidential election is the  last thing Israeli leadership should consider when deciding when to strike Iran, if they believe military action is warranted.  The American people and the U.S. Congress will strongly support Israel in the event of a strike.  Before or after an election, they will not allow a president to punish Israel for eliminating what Israel believes is an existential threat.

    The decision for war is a decision to exchange one set of uncertainties for another set.  American support might even survive a strike viewed as premature and unsuccessful – but for how long?  It’s just as likely that the strike, even one considered fully successful, would be the end of American consensual support for Israel on the way, perhaps over years but irreversibly, to neutrality or worse. 

xmontrealer says:

Israeli history is replete with “damn the torpedos” straight ahead -type warriors, and cooler heads to act as brakes (think Ben Gurion vs. Sharrett as an example).  I’ll admit I don’t know that much about Mofaz, but his Iranian ancestry might well be the balm the situation needs in order to avoid military conflagration that would have unforseeable, and certainly unfortunate consequences.

Ahmedinejhad’s influence has taken severe hits recently, as is evidenced by the open dressing down he is getting from the ayatollahs and mullahs, but that may not necessarily be a good thing as the void might be filled with someone yet more extreme, if that can even be conceived, or more likely someone more sensitive to the desires of the ruling clerical caste.

I’m am not at all reassured by the mystical fatwa against nuclear weapons, as I have produced articles by senior ayatollahs who have openly issued fatwas approving the use of nuclear weapons, and of nuclear threats from Iran going back as far as December 2001, long before any Israeli  threats were uttered. I’ll link them again, to keep everyone’s memory fresh.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/1510900/Iranian-fatwa-approves-use-of-nuclear-weapons.html
http://www.iran-press-service.com/articles_2001/dec_2001/rafsanjani_nuke_threats_141201.htm

Without sounding all gloom and doom, it’s possible that Mofaz could be a powerful go between in bridging a very frightening gap between these 2 countries.  

Curious choice of words:  “Netanyahu will present a far more solid
antagonist for Obama or any other external or internal doubting Thomases
in the coming months.” The sentence casts Netanyahu as Jesus Christ or at minimum an apostle, and in some bizarre way it’s just almost right, especially in light of Diskin’s calling the current leadership “messianic,” and also considering the peculiar Dual Covenant structure of the Israeli-American, Jewish and Christian Zionist, alliance.  The concept of revelatory sacrifice casts a peculiar light on a potential action against Iran, but also on a potential withholding of action, and not just on the political-military resolution but on its aftermath.  If it’s more maddening than helpful, that may be because the situation is already so tragically mad, something Morris probably understands, or at least understood, as well as anyone.

genelevit says:

It is all much simpler. Both, Netanyahu and Mofaz, are winners from that deal. Mofaz became a member of the government, an unachievable goal should earlier elections be held. Netanyahu got a free ride. With 28 mandates from Kadima and 5 from Barak he has an unyielding majority in the Knesset.  Neither Mofaz nor Barak have any desire to topple the present government. Unlike time in the past, when small parties threatened to break the coalition if their demands would not be met, now Mofaz and Barak will have to yield to Netanyahu desires. This new government can make a lot of changes and such prospect bothers leftist socialists and communists enormously. Therefore they are so much against the deal           

Far more disturbing is the instability now infesting the Sinai thanks to the long, slow dying of the Egyptian government.  Never mind the Muslim Brotherhood and their promises of “a million martyrs for Jerusalem”; the entire country is about to starve to death as their ForEx runs out and they have no means to buy food.  Will Israel be forced to retake the Sinai when it further devolves into a lawless wilderness a-la Somalia?

    Saint_Etienne says:

    I guess retaking the Sinai will be hardly necessary (let alone, politically viable). A good border fence will do the job.

Royq says:

I once attended an event at an American Legion post.  In the restroom, the urinal cakes featured images of Jane Fonda.  I think Netanyahu can look forward to a similar homage should he go ahead with a strike on Iran without explicit American consent.  Facile analogies with Nazi Germany do not qualify as persuasion, but as tokens of a disturbingly blinkered mentality, that pays insufficient heed to the reservations of the country that more than any weapons system is the principal guarantor of Israeli security.  

Is Netanyahu prepared to sever that relationship?  Would the Israeli public deem it an acceptable sacrifice in the pursuit of staving off Iranian nuclear capability for at best a few years?  Bibi has worked assiduously, tirelessly and unwaveringly to alienate non-insignificant portions of the American public, in the expectation of further unqualified American support without concessions on his part.  He has been getting without giving since the beginning of his second term but some kind 0f reckoning is in the offing, sooner or later.  If Americans start dying as a result of precipitous action toward Iran on Netanyahu’s part, he will be responsible for the collapse of the relationship that has helped sustain Israel for decades.  And there is really no other country out there that can or will function as a substitute.

Fat_Man says:

Maybe Bibi is planning a preemptive strike against Shas?

martyj says:

I certainly hope this juncture is not a prelude to a Strike relative to Iran, this would prove  a disaster to all concerned! Another issue, where would the dissent come from within the Knesseth?

Ed Kendrick says:

Perhaps the Mossad could orchestrate an attack in the U.S. and make it look like Iran did it?

Binyamin says:

It is Benny Morris’ (and the Israeli neo-fascist wing’s) wet dream that it is “1967 all over again.”     Just think, a war with Iran could be an excellent cover for realizing Mr. Morris recently stated goal for Israel: “The Israel I want to se is . . .-to put it frankly-less Arab.” 

http://www.momentmag.com/moment/issues/2012/02/Symposium.html

The analogy here is off. The taking of Dayan into the cabinet was an emergency message t to bolster the people’s confidence when Eshkol showed a stuttering hesitancy at a time of existensial threat. There was a direct and immediate threat of war.
Now the reason for this step has nothing whatsover to do with the military threat the nuclear threat from Iran. It has to do first of all with Mofaz’s understanding that the elections would have been the end for him and Kadima. He made a wise tactical move to save himself and his party. He also by doing so opened up new possibilities for the country to deal with long- term problems. For Netanyahu the move saved him and the country an expensive election campaign and helped him against the internal pressure from the extreme right in his own party. He now has opportunities to make historic moves regarding the electoral system, the haredi contribution to Israeli society, the Iranian threat and perhaps even the Peace process.

i am not my father mother fuckers .. 2012 is coming for you bastards  slion – fish –  aquarious

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1967 All Over Again?

Israel’s new coalition echoes the unity government that came together on the eve of the Six Day War

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