Bibi Faces Elections, Jail, and Iran
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Bibi Faces Elections, Jail, and Iran

KAHNTENTIONS

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Israelis will go to the polls on March 3 for the third time in less than a year. The first two rounds of elections were inconclusive and did not produce a party leader who successfully could cobble together a viable governing coalition in the Parliament.  While the two major parties—Likud and Blue and White –remain the same, there are observers who suggest that neither Binyamin Netanyahu or Benny Gantz will be able to produce a governing coalition.  This situation has produced a public that is very tired of all the political gamesmanship and are politically despondent at the state of Israel’s democracy.

As they consider more of the same and no real exciting new choices, the election likely will be a replay of the first two elections.  For the Israeli voters their choice may very well come down to Bibi or some untested, unremarkable political leader on the right. The likelihood that the Israeli body politic will move to the left in the current climate is highly improbable. Many Israelis will ultimately opt for more of Netanyahu than either of the more extreme right-wing parties. The religious parties are likely to support Netanyahu’s effort to form a new Government. Meanwhile, Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu (Jewish Home) Party, if it continues to demand that the religious parties remain excluded from a coalition, is unlikely to find a place in a new Government.

The only significant, political change is that the Israeli public is watching their Prime Minister literally running to avoid the prospects of going to jail. Having charges now awaiting him, Netanyahu needs to win this election—and maintain immunity and postponement of his legal proceedings. Alternatively, Bibi is unlikely to avoid standing trail on the indictments shortly after the election.

America’s confrontation with Iran and then their mutual step-back, brought to light once again the specter of the potential existential threat that Iran poses to Israel. This too hovers over the election debate. What was curious about the U.S.-Iran confrontation and its rapid dissipation, was the clear realization that Iran wants to avoid a serious engagement with the U.S.

Israel represents a much smaller and nearer enemy for Iran. The Iranians understand that the potential of an Israeli attack or response against Iran would be considerably more lethal than that of President Trump. It is likely that Iran recognizes this fact and may engage in considerable saber rattling; but Iran comprehends that Israel has a much smaller margin of error than the U.S.  Iran knows Israel’s military prowess. In the event of an actual confrontation, Israel is unlikely to restrain its forces were there ever to be an actual Iranian threat to Israel.

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Israel also will be commemorating this week the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, with world leaders coming to Jerusalem for the occasion. Even this memorial event, sadly is wrapped in politics as Israel and Poland were vying for which country would hold the most important and the first remembrance.

For all Israeli Governments, Holocaust commemorations are very deep and searing occasions.  For Menachem Begin these proceedings were personal and reflected his own life’s history. Prime Minister Netanyahu frequently has turned such somber moments into political events and with this anniversary coming a month before the election it could well occur again.

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