Bogie and Bougie are out. Yvet is in. Bibi’s still in the catbird seat.
Even by the standards of Israel’s fractious, bizarre political couplings and upheavals, the drama playing out today in Israel is almost unprecedented. The defense minister, Moshe Bogie Yaalon, has resigned after Netanyahu essentially offered his job to an arch rival, Avigdor Lieberman. The prime minister, who is one of the most insecure and back-biting leaders in recent memory has a long history of building up mentors to a certain point until they threaten to become rivals, at which point he stabs them in the back. If you didn’t know better you’d think Netanyahu’s government was a scene out of Macbeth (with Sara Netanyahu playing Lady Macbeth–though instead of blood, she wipes pistachio ice cream off her hands).
There are two main threads which run through this drama. The first is the increasing friction and distrust between Netanyahu and Yaalon. The latter held the second most important portfolio in the government. As such, he was a future rival to Netanyahu and the latter must perforce cut him down to size. The opportunity came in the form of a speech delivered at Bogie’s invitation by deputy chief of staff, Yair Golan. In the address, the IDF commander warned the nation that the hate and violence brewing inside Israeli society was reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Israel as a nation under the current right-wing extremist government is smug, self-satisfied and inured to criticism. So Golan’s words came not only as a shock, but a slap in the face to the ultra-nationalists in the cabinet. Netanyahu severely criticized Golan for the clear affront to his leadership. In response, Yaalon stood by his deputy chief as a general stands by his subordinate.
That didn’t sit well with Netanyahu, who called him in to the woodshed for a good spanking. Whatever happened during that meeting didn’t go well. Within 24 hours, Netanyahu had offered Yaalon’s job to Avigdor Lieberman, who is one of the only far-right Israeli extremists currently not in the government. There were murmurings that Bibi was offering Yaalon the foreign ministry as a sop. But the idea of a former IDF chief of staff (Yaalon) accepting a demotion from a leader he no longer respected was too much to bear. Hence, today’s resignation.
The notion that either Golan or Yaalon represent Israeli humanism or moral conscience is revolting. They both have the blood of thousands of Palestinians dripping from their hands. But in the era we find ourselves in even Attila the Hun has become a statesman.
There is yet another bizarre development as a result of Yaalon’s decision. He is also resigning his Knesset seat. The candidate who will assume it is none other than settler flamethrower, Yehuda Glick. You’ll recall he was almost assassinated a year ago or so by an aggrieved Palestinian. Glick is a Temple Mount activist. Which is a euphemistic way of saying he seeks to instigate a religious holy war between Judaism and Islam by destroying the Haram al Sharif so that the Third Temple may be built on its ruins.
When I read the headlines complaining that the reconstituted government will be the most right-wing in Israeli history, I blanch. Can it be any more extremist than the current one? Yes, I guess it can, and will.
If we return to the days of yesteryear (that is, yesterday), Bibi was tempting Labor Party leader Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog to join the coalition. Herzog was amenable. But the problem is that his value to Bibi had drastically declined since the days just after the last election, when Bibi was offering him the foreign ministry to bring his Party into the government. Now, Bibi was only offering second tier cabinet posts like Justice and Communications.
Though Labor MKs were angry at the prospect of joining the government, Herzog persisted. He and Bibi even dreamed up (an even more bizarre account has Tony Blair and Egypt’s Al-Sisi devising this plot to bring Labor into the government) a fantasy Egyptian peace plan and a trip for the two of them to Egypt to consult with military junta leader, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, who was the author of this new initiative. It doesn’t matter that no Palestinian leader had asked for Egypt’s help to negotiate on their behalf. Nor that there was a peace process to revive, since Bibi had trashed the last effort by Secretary of State Kerry. What mattered is that Bibi and Bougie needed a fig leaf to persuade each of their constituencies that there was something urgent and important that brought them together: peace.
In this case, peace was a ploy. The initiative isn’t real. Al-Sisi is as fake an Egyptian leader as they are fake Israeli leaders. They don’t stand for values, principles or ideas. They stand for themselves and their own interests. They don’t lead, they follow. What they follow, even they don’t know.
Somehow a plan that was young, vibrant and alive yesterday has now withered on the vine like Jonah’s gourd. Today, Israel is in the throes of yet another internal coup d’état bringing an even more racist, violent and corrupt leader into the government.
By the way, let’s not forget accusations made the last time Lieberman was in government that he is essentially a Russian asset who relays intelligence directly to Putin. Israeli media even noted that the Shabak and national security officials refused to brief him about matters pertaining to Russia since they believed it would land on Putin’s desk the next morning. If any of this is true, then having Lieberman in the defense ministry is an even more golden plum for the Russians. Now Lieberman has access to Israel’s military plans in Syria, Iran and other hotspots that involve Russia. Not to mention the intelligence data he will be privy to from Israel’s American allies.