Netanyahu's Bluff

Bumped - Todd

On his first day in office, Benjamin Netanyahu sure does have his rant on. Today in an interview (with no transcript provided) with Jeffery Goldberg of The Atlantic, Israel's new Prime Minister laid down the gauntlet. According to the rather gung-ho Mr. Goldberg, the message from Israel's newly sworn in Prime Minister is "stark". If the Obama administration doesn't prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, Israel may be forced to attack. The stupidity of that sentence should be self-evident. This is tantamount to an ultimatum and one delivered via the media. If Netanyahu wants to play games, he'll find himself talking to no one.

Benjamin Netanyahu laid down a challenge for Barack Obama. The American president, he said, must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons--and quickly--or an imperiled Israel may be forced to attack Iran's nuclear facilities itself.

"The Obama presidency has two great missions: fixing the economy, and preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons," Netanyahu told me. He said the Iranian nuclear challenge represents a "hinge of history" and added that "Western civilization" will have failed if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

In unusually blunt language, Netanyahu said of the Iranian leadership, "You don't want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran."

As if Netanyahu can dictate to Barack Obama by throwing a tantrum. Israel voted for its own irrelevance on the international state back in February. The elections proved indecisive and Israelis will come to regret their decision if they haven't done so already. Netanyahu may lead a government, he doesn't lead the country. Netanyahu and his 30 member cabinet, the largest in Israeli history, came into power with a stunning 54% disapproval rate according to Haaretz.

According to a survey for Haaretz, the public is not giving the new government a grace period, perhaps because it has so many ministers and deputy ministers, or because so many of them have dubious portfolios.

The problem could also be the friction that accompanied the government's formation; two key cabinet members are suffering embarrassingly low support ratings. Netanyahu, who dreamed for a decade about returning to the Prime Minister's Bureau, will have to work hard and fast to show he is productive.

The most striking result of the Haaretz-Dialog poll, conducted under Prof. Camil Fuchs of the statistics department at Tel Aviv University, is the extent of the public's dissatisfaction with the new government. Less than a third of those surveyed said they are satisfied with Netanyahu's government. More than half, 54 percent, are dissatisfied with the new government.

It's unlikely that politically Netanyahu could pull off an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities but even more that this, Israel lacks the military capacity to take out all of Iran's nuclear facilities which are not just spread out across the country but also buried deep underground in protective bunkers. Furthermore, Israeli warplanes would have to fly over US controlled airspace. Netanyahu's rant is a bluff.

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Ehud Barak Takes Labor Over a Cliff into Political Irrevelance

Fresh off its worst electoral showing in its history garnering just 334,900 votes or 9.9% of the electorate, Israel's Labor Party Central Committee voted in favor of joining Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition. Labor Chairman and the current Defense Minister Ehud Barak drafted the deal with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

But half of the left-leaning party's lawmakers objected to teaming up with the Likud leader due to his long-standing opposition to peace efforts. Ehud Barak made his appeal to join the Netanyahu coalition invoking slain Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin. In an impassioned speech before the vote, Ehud Barak said "we are responsible for the Labor Party, but we also have a responsibility to the state of Israel, to peace, to security. We don't have a back-up country, Yitzhak Rabin said that, and it is still true."

"Labor voters want to see us in the government, they want to see us there because we don't have a spare country," Mr. Barak added. I'm not so sure. I tend to agree with Kadima's Yohanan Plesner who said that Labor had "signed its own death warrant."

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The Clinton and Netanyahu Relationship

A brief history for those who are interested:

According to The Washington Institute of Near East Policy in 1998:

"Ever since Benjamin Netanyahu's narrow May, 1996, election as prime minister, relations between Washington and Jerusalem have soured. Whereas Bill Clinton and the late Yitzhak Rabin had an unusually warm friendship, ties between Clinton and Netanyahu started out cool and went downhill from there."

"Some reasons are simple, such as the fact that each supported the other's political opponent, with Clinton campaigning for Labor's Shimon Peres and Netanyahu building close ties with congressional Republicans. They also disagree on policy, with Clinton keen to press on with the Oslo Accords as Rabin's legacy while Netanyahu believes that Oslo spells danger for the Jewish state. And given their remarkable similarity in personal strengths and weaknesses, the clashes might even be traced to that law of physics: "likes repel."

As it has been pointed out today, a reporter had to ask for Netanyahu and Hillary Clinton to shake hands, being this her first trip as Secretary of State. I found this odd in the fact it is well known that the Clintons and Netanyahu have strained relations stemming from their first encounters of the late 1990's.

The true test will now be how Hillary Clinton will manage Netanyahu and restarting talks with Israel and Hamas. The points of the negotiations will be that of stopping Israeals attacks into the Gaza strip and bringing Hamas to the table. The tensions are still there, but it is Hillary now and not Bill.

How will talks transpire now that a Clinton is in charge of foreign policy in a post-Bush world?

The history should be known because it may protend on how Netanyahu will treat the Secretary of State, but then again, who will be in charge of the new Israeli government?

Your thoughts?

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It's Democrats vs. "Republikuds"

As noted in the middle of the past week, the right wing, ultra-neoconservative, 501(c)4 (note: they're not a 527, so they're not subjected to the more stringent 527 reporting requirements) lobbying group, Freedom's Watch, is already  running robo-call programs in the following congressional districts:

AZ-5, AZ-08, CA-11, FL-16, GA-08, IL-08, KS-02, KS-03, KY-03, NH-01, NH-02, NY-20, OH-18, PA-04, PA-10, and PA-11.

I've searched for an answer to the question: "Who is Freedom's Watch?" And, what I've come up with is most disconcerting. Primarily, it's a lobbying group of hardcore, right wing, U.S.-based Jewish supporters of Israel, combined with a generous portion of neoconservative evangelicals, and topped-off by some major league connections to Benjamin Netanyahu's ultra-rightwing Likud Party in Israel--all heavily supported by the uppermost folks running our government today, starting with Chimpy, Cheney, Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer, and all their little dogs (Sembler, Libby, etc.), too!

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Conservative Corruption: Israeli Edition

Thought that corruption on the Right was limited to Americans like Tom DeLay, Bob Taft, Conrad Burns, Curt Weldon, Ernie Fletcher, Charles Taylor, Bob Ney, Jack Abramoff, Bill Frist, Tom Noe, Rick Santorum, David Safavian, John Doolittle, Ralph Reed, Richard Pombo, Jerry Lewis and Denny Hastert? Think again. According to Rebecca Anna Stoil of The Jerusalem Post, Israel's star of the Right, Bibi Netanyahu, is involved in an ethics investigation that could finally spell an end to his reactionary political career.

Opposition leader MK Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) was questioned for hours by the National Fraud Squad Tuesday afternoon under suspicion of accepting gifts illegally, as his political rivals kept their eyes on the investigation of a man who sought to portray his party as the alternative to corrupt politics.

Tuesday's questioning was part of an ongoing National Fraud Squad investigation into Yisrael Katz, the former chairman of the Pedagogic Secretariat at the Education Ministry, who has been accused of using government funds to support his private research institute which he ran while he worked for the ministry.

For a number of months, detectives have been probing allegations that Katz committed both fraud and violation of trust in diverting Education Ministry funds to carrying out political opinion polls at the Institute for Education and Community Research at Bar Ilan University.

In this case, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving opinion polls conducted for him by Katz without compensating Katz for the service. Only after a Channel 10 report revealed in late 2005 that Netanyahu had been receiving the polling data, he paid the bill - tens of thousands of shekels - to Katz. It remains unclear if Netanyahu knew that the studies were allegedly financed through the government funds.

With Israel seemingly entering a new phase of engagement with the Palestinians, the center-right/center-left coalition headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Party is in a particularly tenuous situation. Opinion in the country after the conflict with Hizbollah is trending more hawkish rather than less, and a recently-released Angus-Reid poll indicates that a right wing Likud Party headed by Netanyahu (who has been toning up the rhetoric when it comes to Iran) would win a rather sizable mandate from voters, garnering an estimated 29 seats, followed by Kadima (center-right) at 18 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu (far right) at 14 seats, Labor (center-left) at 12 seats and Shas (ultra-orthodox Sephardic Jews) at 10 seats. In short, Israelis are significantly more conservative in their outlook today than perhaps they have ever been.

But a major corruption scandal focused on Likud, which has prided itself as the clean government alternative for Israelis, could seriously undermine the Party's abilities to triumph in any upcoming election -- particularly if it is their standard-bearer, Benjamin Netanyahu, who the focus of investigators.

Now corruption is not a new issue to Israelis. They have certainly seen their share of scandals before and have, in the past, been willing to overlook similar scandals as broader issues of security come to the fore. That said, if the Netanyahu probe continues and the deescalation proves to hold (with Israel not reentering Gaza and the Palestinians not continuing to fire rockets into Israel), thus helping to refocus the electorate on Kadima's agenda of bringing more stability through withdrawal from Palestinian territories, Olmert might be able to recapture his support among voters and stave off any challenge from the right.

Yes, there are a lot of "ifs" there. But things move very quickly in the region and Israeli voters are more than willing to change their alliances with the coming of new successes or failures. So while Netanyahu and the Israeli Right appear ascendent today, there is yet a very good chance that a coalition of the middle will be able to retain power in the coming months and years and at least try to move the situation between Israel and the Palestinians forward.

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