Failure at the Top

Before discussing the disaster that is the coalition government in Israel, let’s look at some very recent developments in the Middle East that have important ramifications for Israel.

A Reuters article of May 8, by Anthony Deutsch, reports, “International inspectors have found traces of sarin and VX nerve agent at a military research site in Syria that had not been declared to the global chemical weapons watchdog, diplomatic sources said on Friday. Samples taken by experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition and Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in December and January tested positive for chemical precursors needed to make the toxic agents, the sources told Reuters on the condition of anonymity because the information is confidential. “This is a pretty strong indication they have been lying about what they did with sarin,” one diplomatic source said. ‘They have so far been unable to give a satisfactory explanation about this finding.'”

Who can forget President Obama’s declaration that Syria’s use of chemical weapons would constitute a red line for the US? However, the President failed to take action against Syria when it used sarin and settled for an agreement to destroy Syria’s stockpiles of poison gas. Now that Syria has violated its end of the bargain, what will the US do? If President Obama waffles again and takes no military action against the Syrian government, the US will lose whatever shreds of credibility that it still has in the Middle East. It would also signal that the US is determined to make a nuclear deal with Iran, no matter how bad the terms may be.

The US has certainly lost its credibility with the Gulf States. As Ben Hubbard reports in the New York Times of May 11, “The sense of neglect by Washington has caused a crisis of confidence among the Gulf nations, capped by the announcement Sunday that King Salman of Saudi Arabia would not attend this week’s meeting — after the White House said that he would.” That’s a real slap in the President’s face by King Salman.

Hubbard reports, “Many of the same fears driving the Saudi policy shifts have been expressed forcefully by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Both capitals are worried that President Obama’s focus on achieving an agreement with Iran, a country they see as an implacable aggressor, has shaken bedrock commitments by Washington that have long underpinned the regional order.”

One of the major worries is the insubstantiality of ‘snapback’ provisions touted by the administration as part of any deal with Iran. ‘Snapback’ means that, in case of a treaty violation by Iran, all of the UN sanctions will be automatically restored. Unfortunately, the US is a long way from getting agreement on snapback provisions.

Louis Charbonneau writes in a May 6 Reuters article, “Restoring U.S. and EU sanctions is relatively easy, but that is not the case with U.N. sanctions. While the United States is worried about Russia and China, Moscow, Beijing and Tehran want to be certain that Washington cannot unilaterally force a snapback if the Republicans win the U.S. presidency in 2016. ‘We haven’t found a mechanism that works for everyone yet,’ one diplomat said.”

Ben Hubbard wrote about Bibi’s forceful expression of fears about Iran. His speech to a joint session of Congress may have been forceful but it accomplished nothing – other than antagonizing the Obama administration. If he had been successful in changing the dynamics of the Iran negotiations, the Gulf States would not be meeting with President Obama this week. The positive aspect of Netanyahu’s failure is that it is forcing the Gulf States to come out into the open. Iran is a much greater threat to the Gulf States than it is to Israel.

Beside alienating the US administration , Bibi managed to boost the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement in his election campaign. Supporters of BDS should make Bibi their man of the year. What more could our enemies want than statements by the Prime Minister of Israel that (1) there would be no Palestinian State on his watch and (2) an election day statement that the right-wing government is in danger because Arab voters are going en masse to the polls?

In spite of poisoning the well in his attempt to win the election, Bibi ended up with a pathetic governing coalition. After making major concessions to get coalition partners, Bibi was barely able to cobble together a government – ending up with just 61 MK’s, the minimal number in a Knesset consisting of 120 members.

Concessions to the haredi parties will reverse the effort made in the previous government to integrate the haredim into the Israeli economy. Josef Federman writes in an AP article of May 6, “Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox partners, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are bent on reversing reforms passed by the last government. Those reforms sought to end an unpopular system that granted the ultra-Orthodox exemptions from compulsory military service, welfare subsidies to study full-time instead of entering the work force and generous budgets for a religious school system that largely ignores key subjects like math, English and computer studies.”

After Avigdor Lieberman stuck a stiletto between Bibi’s ribs by joining the opposition at the last moment, Naftali Bennett had Bibi over a barrel and he made the most of his opportunity – demanding and getting the Justice Ministry for his party. As both Bennett and Lieberman served as Bibi’s Chief of Staff and both fell out with him, you might suspect that Lieberman informed Bennett of his plans in advance. Moshe Kahlon is also a disaffected former member of the Likud. Bibi has a knack for driving away talented associates.

Bennett really cleaned up. Jeremy Sharon writes in the Jerusalem Post of May 7, “As well as obtaining the Education Ministry for party chairman MK Naftali Bennett, the Justice Ministry for MK Ayelet Shaked, and the Agriculture Ministry for MK Uri Ariel, the party also received the deputy defense minister position, which is likely to be filled by MK Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, while MK Bezalel Smotrich will likely become deputy speaker. The party also gained the chairmanship of the important Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee,”

The real winner is Moshe Kahlon and Kulanu who got the Finance, Construction, and Environmental Protection portfolios. Kahlon’s agenda is to make the Israeli economy work for the average Israeli – specifically by reducing housing costs and reforming the banking sector. Some argue that Kahlon will not be able to accomplish anything because the coalition is so weak. However, I believe that his agenda will be strongly supported on both sides of the aisle. How can the Zionist Union or Yesh Atid, let alone Meretz, oppose legislation that helps the average Israeli?

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.