Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist

Bibi’s ‘Thatcher’ moment

Watch your back, Bibi! Treachery, self-interest, and political ambition have always superseded loyalty in the dirty world of politics. Just ask Julius Caesar.

I admit that I’m no fan of the prime minister. I believe he’s long past his ‘sell by’ date and has little left to offer this nation other than the prospect of dragging us through one withering scandal after another. Even those close to him are allegedly questioning the damage he will do to his party and the country if he stays in office amid a gathering storm of corruption and cronyism investigations.

There are many historical precedents for what is likely to happen next, but the one that jumps most readily to mind from recent times is the downfall of the ‘Iron Lady’, Margaret Thatcher, British prime minster from May 1979 – November 1990.

Thatcher was her country’s longest serving leader, and, like Mr. Netanyahu (who is closing in on the Israeli equivalent record currently held by David Ben Gurion), she came from the right of the political spectrum. The similarities, (including an unfeasibly well-coiffed hair-do), don’t end there.  Towards the end of her tenure in 1990, Thatcher’s greatest challenge became not her political rivals, but those who sat on the very same benches as her in the Houses of Parliament, many of whom had once been her most trusted confidantes.

Her persistent undermining of so many ideological allies, her refusal to cede decision-making to other ministers, her utter self-belief that she was indestructible and always knew best, and, eventually, her refusal to step aside after so long in the job, caused those closest to her to finally end her political days. Who, from Bibi’s inner circle, might prove the equivalent characters in this current Shakespearean-style political drama?

Back in November 1990, of all people it transpired that the benign, seemingly puppy-dog loyal former foreign minister and former chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Howe, a gentle man who seemed hardly able to say boo to a goose, struck the initial and most telling blow. He was the first to publicly stab Thatcher in the back, delivering a withering resignation speech that left all that viewed it breathless at the shock of his betrayal. Opposition former Labour chancellor Dennis Healey memorably referred to the attack on the prime minister by such an apparently docile and loyal creature as Howe, as “like being savaged by a dead sheep”.

Just days after Howe’s first stab of the knife, the dashing Michael Heseltine then stood up and challenged Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative party (Britain’s equivalent of the Likud), at least having the guts to take Thatcher on face-to-face. Some years later Edward Leigh, one of Thatcher’s few remaining loyal friends, recalled of the pretender to the crown’s challenge, “At least Heseltine stabbed her in the front”.

Thatcher’s days were numbered, and it wasn’t long before she had to resign having lost the confidence of her own party.

When the ship is in trouble, the rats have an almost uncanny knack of always leaving before it sinks, self-preservation being paramount in politics probably more than in any other sphere. If this Thatcher-like scenario is to be repeated here in Bibi’s Israel, where will the first killer blow come from? The Geoffrey Howe-like Yuval Steinitz? The bombastic David Bitan? The scheming Yisrael Katz? The controversial Miri Regev? Who knows?

It may well come from any one of a myriad of other unexpected sources, but, if political history through the ages tells us anything, given the current furor and gathering scandal whirling around Netanyahu, it will come.

About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at
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