Netanyahu lacks votes from ‘inner cabinet’ to bomb Iran

Israel’s top-selling newspaper reports that Netanyahu hasn’t convinced inner council to back war; his latest attempt to rig the game has only hurt him more. 

Yedioth Ahronoth is reporting some very good and surprising news on the Iran front: Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn’t have a majority in the inner council of his government for an attack. In the eight-minister “octet,” an unofficial body sometimes called the “security cabinet” or “inner cabinet,” it’s tied 4-4, with PM Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz in favor of war, and Interior Minister Eli Yishai and ministers-of-whatever Moshe “Bugi” Ya’alon, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin against.

And this is after last week’s terror attack in Burgas, which is assumed, even without Bibi’s salesmanship, to have been instigated by Iran.

The surprise here is the opposition of Ya’alon and, to a lesser degree, Yishai, both of whom are superhawks. What’s not surprising is the mention that IDF chief Benny Gantz and Mossad head Tamir Pardo also oppose an attack.

The positions of some of the inner cabinet ministers may be less clear-cut than the Yedioth story says, but it’s pretty much backed up in a commentary piece by the authoritative journalist Nahum Barnea, so even if the octet isn’t exactly hung 4-4, it’s still safe to say that Netanyahu does not have sufficient high-level backing to strike Iran for the time being. Netanyahu, Barak and their allies still have to sell the other powerful men in the government and get the tide rolling their way before the orders to start bombing can be given.

It may yet happen. I don’t know that any of these opponents are against an attack on Iran in principle. Some may be hoping for the sanctions to take effect, or for America to come in and do the job, or they may want to see how things shake out with Syria, or there may be other hesitations.

But it seems Netanyahu doesn’t have the power yet to go ahead with his plans, which is a big surprise to me. I thought Bibi and Barak had made the war an inevitability that was just sweeping the high councilors in its wake, but evidently that’s not so.

And Bibi’s ability to sell the doubters on a dangerous war, especially one under his leadership,  has just taken a bad beating. If anything, he’s in the process of losing support, not gaining it.

In this same story (unavailable online, only in print), Yedioth reported that the abortive move this week by a few Kadima Knesset members to jump ship and join the Likud was motivated by Netanyahu’s desire to shore up his war support. The leader of the mutiny, Tsachi Hanegbi, is a former Likudnik who followed Ariel Sharon to Kadima, and who wants to come home now that Kadima is falling apart. Hanegbi is 100% for hitting Iran, and Netanyahu wanted him in the inner cabinet to provide the 5-4 advantage, as well as to use his persuasive abilities as prospective “minister of homefront affairs” on wavering colleagues, the security-intelligence brass and the public.

Yedioth also reports that Netanyahu had the same basic reason for wanting Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz in the inner cabinet – to get his support for war, which would have been influential because he is a former IDF chief. Mofaz has wavered over the years on Iran, and Netanyahu thought that by bringing him into the goverment and seating him in the most inner of circles, he could bring him into the pro-war faction, but the opposite happened: Mofaz’s doubts about attacking Iran stiffened into opposition. Thus, Netanyahu sought out Hanegbi as a replacement, but that gambit blew up in the pair’s faces when it leaked out, making them look like pimps and the Likud-bound Kadima MKs like whores, so everyone immediately backed off the deal.

Out of all this bullshit, the one important result is that Netanyahu’s stature, his ability to inspire confidence in his political supporters, has taken another hit – and it seems he’s going to need more of that ability, not less, if he wants to make war on Iran.

Which means it’s a new ballgame. It may actually be possible to stop this thing.