An edited version of this article appeared first at LobeLog.
They were dueling op-eds, one in the New York Times and the other in the Jewish communal magazine, Tablet. The question being
Nationalistic signs at Salute to Israel Day in New York, July 2006
Photo by Rabih/Public Domain
bandied between them was whether Israel is becoming a theocracy. Not surprisingly, both pieces missed the mark. It’s not theocracy but unbridled nationalism that is the threat in Israel.
The Times piece was authored by Abbas Milani, who heads the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University and Israel Waismel-Manor, a lecturer at Haifa University who is currently a visiting associate professor of Political Science at Stanford. Their thesis is that Iran and Israel are moving in opposite directions on a democratic-theocratic scale, and that they might at some point in the future pass each other. Milani and Waismel-Manor are certainly correct about the strengthening forces of secularism and democracy in Iran, along with a good dose of disillusionment and frustration with the revolutionary, Islamic government that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ushered in thirty-five years ago. But on Israel, they miss the mark by a pretty wide margin.
Waismel-Manor and MIlani posit that the thirty seats currently held in Israel’s Knesset by religious parties shows growing religious influence on Israeli policies. But, as Yair Rosenberg at Tablet correctly points out, not all the religious parties have the same attitude about separation of religion and the state. Where Rosenberg, unsurprisingly, goes way off course is his complete eliding of the fact that the threat is not Israel’s tilt toward religion, but it’s increasingly radical shift toward right-wing policies, which are often severely discriminatory and militant. Continue reading
This article originally appeared at LobeLog.
The new Israeli government features a security braintrust that might be a bit more reasonable on Iran, but is likely to be even more hawkish both in the immediate region
Netanyahu has a new and untested cabinet
and within the country itself. Gone are voices from the Israeli right who favored a more reasoned and diplomatic approach to their right-wing agenda. They have been replaced by figures who want more direct action and refuse even the pretense of a two-state solution.
On Iran, the retirement of Ehud Barak removes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading supporter in his effort for a strike on Iran sooner rather than later, whether that be carried out by Israel or, preferably, the United States. He is replaced by Moshe “Bogey” Ya’alon. Bogey is also an Iran hawk, but is not in favor of Israel launching an attack other than as a last resort. He is far more content than Barak to allow the United States to take the lead and wants Israel to act only if it becomes apparent that the US will not. That puts him pretty well in line with the Israeli military and intelligence leadership in practice, though he sees Iran as more of a threat than they do.
In fact, no one in the current or even the outgoing inner circle came close to matching Barak’s eagerness for military action against Iran. Only Netanyahu himself could match him, and he remains daunted by the lack of support for his position in Israel. The ongoing hawkishness in the US Congress and President Barack Obama’s repeated statements holding firm to a military option and refusing a policy of containment also blunt Netanyahu’s resolve. It would seem that, at least for the time being, the calls for war on Iran will be fueled more in the United States than in Israel.
Ya’alon is a former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, but he did not have a distinguished term of service there, was not well-liked and returns without a great deal of good will among the military and intelligence services’ leadership. In fact, colleagues in Israel tell me there is a good deal of consternation in those services regarding Bogey’s appointment. But for now, they will wait and see how he acts. For a deeper look at Ya’alon, see my recent piece on him here. Continue reading
My latest piece at LobeLog asks whether the announcement of a joint list between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu means that we’re a step closer to an attack on Iran. I believe the answer is no, but we’re certainly not farther away either.
I’ve long suspected it, but now I’m convinced: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lost his mind. His announcement todayof forming a joint list with Yisrael Beiteinu and Avigdor Lieberman reeks of a panic not rooted in any sense of reality. And this time, it’s not about “the Arabs” or Iran, but about the upcoming election. It’s proof positive that the man running Israel, and who is going to continue to run Israel for the foreseeable future, is a frightened, perhaps even paranoid, reactionary man.
Consummating their love and uniting the right: Avigdor Lieberman and Benjamin Netanyahu
According to Yediot Akhronot’s web site, YNet, Bibi made the decision to do this because polls indicate Likud would lose a few seats in the next elections (sorry, the report is not available in English at this time). Netanyahu wants to be the leader of the next Knesset’s biggest party, not the second biggest as he currently is. So, he threw in his lot with Lieberman and his explicit fascism.
I think this move is going to backfire on Bibi in a number of ways. First of all, this is going to alienate a number of very high profile Likud members. Some will be seeing this as coming at their expense, especially those in top positions right now who will be bumped at least one rung, perhaps more, lower on the list and in their positions in the next cabinet. Others, like Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and more, are going to bristle sharply at having to work this closely with Lieberman. It would not surprise me to see several prominent Likud figures bolt.
Second, whereas before the so-called super-bloc of “center-left” parties was largely a media invention, Netanyahu has now given it much more impetus. While Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid may still be more interested in making their own mark on the electorate, the more seasoned Labor and Kadima parties are going to find that they have little choice but to join forces now in some way. That won’t matter to Bibi…unless Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni re-enter the fray, which make Kadima meaningful again and would combine well with a Labor Party that Shelly Yachimovitch has kept at a steady second place in polls for months. Continue reading