Political bickering pervades Israeli war cabinet | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 18.07.2014
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Middle East

Political bickering pervades Israeli war cabinet

As the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians continues to escalate, there also increasingly tensions behind the scenes within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet between hardliners and moderates.

"Danny Danon was riding fast for somebody so young, but I think he overplayed his hand." However, despite his assessment, political commentator Amotz Asa'El expects the junior Israeli cabinet minister to be back in power within a year or two, despite being fired on Wednesday for opposing the proposed ceasefire deal with Hamas.

As the number of dead and injured in Gaza from the ongoing conflict with Israel continues to rise, so too does the list of casualties within Israel's parliament.

In the first week, it was the seasoned politician and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman who officially split from his party's coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, disgruntled by Netanyahu's refusal to immediately launch a ground attack on Gaza.

Danon, the 43-year-old right-wing Likud party member, was fired from his post as deputy defence minister for calling into question the government's 'restrained approach' toward Gaza.

It appears now though that those political scalps may have been premature with Israel Defence Force troops ordered last night to invade Gaza and destroy the so-called terror tunnels.

Avigdor Lieberman

Lieberman has been outspoken in his criticism of Netanyahu

"It's very unusual in Israel in moments of actual skirmishing for the politicians to attack the government, even from the opposition. For instance, now you can see Labor the main opposition is very cautious in what it says and it's very consistent in its avoidance of attacking Netanyahu....at least for now. So for someone from within the coalition to come and attack the government while there's fighting is altogether unheard of in Israel," Asa'El told DW.

While paying a visit to reserve soldiers outside Gaza on Wednesday, Danon had criticized the government's restraint in its approach to Gaza. He wanted a stronger, more immediate response.

He also released a press statement chastizing the cabinet for earlier accepting the Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire. "Hamas is once again setting conditions for us. We must not be humiliated. We must correct the mistake of the cabinet decision."

No tug of war

Yehuda Ben Meir, political scientist and senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, believes Danon did himself no favors by turning around and then labelling Netanyahu's actions as "leftist feebleness."

"Everyone knows nobody should speak out or attack. I think Danon is going to suffer, he'll lose out. It's a lack of good manners more than anything else, and a lack of elementary culture of how a government works," Meir told DW.

Despite Danon becoming the second political scalp in a week, Meir doesn't think there's any tug of war to be balanced out between the left and right MPs.

"In any security crisis, defence crisis, and any military action, when the prime minister and the defense minister speak together, united, no one in the government or in opposition, nothing can beat them. Bibi (Netanyahu) and the defense minister go hand in hand and are supported strongly in the public by the chief of staff. When you have that combination all basically toeing the same of line, there's no tug of war."

Meir admits the coalition can have its struggles, between left and right. He cites the recent failed attempt at peace talks with the Palestinian Authority as one example. "But there's never been a coalition crisis on the handling of a defense security issue though. The coalition, as long as this crisis is going on, will remain solid," he said.

If anything, Amotz Asa'El thinks the swift decision to fire Danon will help, not hinder Netanyahu within his coalition, the parliament and amongst the public.

"I I think Netanyahu is balancing quite efficiently those to his right and those to his left, which is pretty much what Israeli prime ministers have done in similar situations in the past. I think in dismissing Danon he sent a clear message to all coalition members that he will not tolerate such public laundering, right now while the guns are firing. He expects discipline from within his own party, and I think he's obtained that."

soldier

Both the public and the parliament are backing the war

Ben Meir agrees. "The prime minister has proved to everyone he has stuck to his guns, and been determined not to back down after all the internal political pressure. I think his image in the eyes of the Israeli public has improved. Here he has shown completely that he is solid. Netanyahu's actions remind people what (former prime minister) Ariel Sharon would do. He fired many ministers for different reasons."

'He'll be back'

As for Danon, he's no stranger to making headlines and waves within his own party. In March this year, he threatened to resign from his position if Israel went ahead with the fourth tranche of a Palestinian prisoners' release. The release didn't happen and Danon stayed on.

In 2012 Danon was a vocal objector to African migrants living in Israel, calling them infiltrators, labelling them a "national plague" and demanding they be sent back home.

However, the very effectiveness of Danon's "meaningless" portfolio has been called into question.

"Danon was a deputy defence minister so he had no functions, the minister didn't want him and completely neutralized him. He never participated in any cabinet meeting, never participated in meetings with military commanders and chiefs of staff. He was always neutralizing Danon," Ben Meir said.

But Asa'El doesn't expect this is the last we'll see of Danon. "He's not out of the game. He's only out of a position....he's young, he's not gone from the scene and certainly not gone from party politics where he actually yields some power."

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