Why Barak’s defection is likely to be a catalyst for a new war
Historical Function, the end: Ehud Barak killed Labor. This bunch of incompetents won’t manage to recover from his defection; we’re talking about a group of people who can’t manage talking to one another. Barak perfected a sort of fine cruelty by not just throwing Fouad Ben Eliezer to the dogs, ending his decades-long blackmailing of Labour leaders, but by also forcing him to resign. There’s nothing more unnatural for Ben-Eliezer than leaving a government, and yet that rare astronomical anomality, seen only once before, repeated itself yesterday.
As for Barak himself – leaving aside his four Liliputians, regarding whom silence is the best recourse – there’s very little to say. He is digging deeper into the well of cynicism and contempt for the electors he showed since the 2009 elections, breaking one promise after another. He surely knows this move killed his political career. No one will elect him ever again, to any office. He destroyed both his and Labour’s future in one move. In 2000 he killed the prospects of peace with the false claim that “we offered them (the Palestinians) everything, and they still chose war”; this time, he did his best to bury Labour, speaking of its “post-modernism and post-Zionism”, which must have surprised most its members. Netanyahu couldn’t break up Kadima, his rival, so he settled from breaking up Labour, his partner.
Assuming this is not how Barak wants to end his historical road, there is one frightening scenario. Barak will in all likelihood join the Likud, and in order to convince its members to elect him, he has just one trick left.
Operation “Aim at the Polls”: Barak managed to get more votes in the 2009 elections by spilling the blood of hundreds of innocent Gazans. Before Cast Lead, Labour was projected to win just six or seven seats; it managed to grab 13 after the operation. Barak’s only electoral premise is based on the claim he killed more Arabs than anyone else; he has no civil achievement to speak of. Nor would he be the first leader to go to war in order to excite the voters: Nobel Prize winner Shimon Peres pulled that trick in 1996. Peres being Peres, he ended up with the Qana Massacre, and thereby lost the Arab votes and the elections with them.
Barak is slightly more cunning. His defection was planned with Netanyahu. The latter was elected on one promise: Attacking Iran. He will have a problem facing the voters without one. Recently, the retiring chief of Mossad, Me’ir Dagan, tried to warn the public of such a war: you go to war, he said, only when the enemy’s sword is at your throat. He also broke with Military Intelligence custom since 2000 – announcing Iran’s bomb would be ready at next year’s autumn – and said it won’t reach a bomb until 2015. Yesterday, he had to somewhat back from that premise, and say Iran may pull a surprise. Still, this put a major crimp in Netanyahu’s war rhetoric.
Netanyahu didn’t take this sitting down: last week he informed the world that its problems are “Iran, Iran, and Iran”. Netanyahu knows his coalition is dying, and that just about everyone are looking forward to the next elections. He must get to the polls with some achievement, or at least a massive distraction. Otherwise, all that people will remember is that Netanyahu was basically a humiliated peon of Liberman and Yishai. If he makes it to the polls in this condition, he will have a hard time defeating Livni.
Netanyahu has just one option to regain his grip on the national agenda: going to war. During wartime, the press automatically stands at the side of the government. At least during the first two weeks, before the IDF’s screw-ups can be noticed. The war’s reflected glory also covers the Minister of Defense. Netanyahu and Barak need a war. Obama seems too weak to rein them in. We should, therefore, watch with unusual suspicion any military move made by Israel in the coming months – from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip, and particularly Iran. The old saying is that war is the extension of diplomacy by other means – but all too often it is the extension of party politics.