Aluf Benn
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 26, 2012 - 12:00am

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a war cabinet last night that will lead Israel into a confrontation with Iran.

He did not conceal his intentions; he announced that the top priority of his next government will be preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The merger with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party will dissolve any domestic opposition to the war, since after the election, Netanyahu will be able to argue that he received a mandate from the people to act as he sees fit. Ministers and top defense officials will have a hard time arguing with him. From now on, only American opposition is liable to delay, or even prevent, a command to the Israel Air Force to take off for Iran.

In announcing the merger Thursday, Netanyahu has finally renounced his attempt to portray himself as a centrist, as a statesmanlike and moderate leader. The mask that he put on before the previous election has finally been tossed into the trash. With Lieberman as second in command and heir to the throne, and his supporters in prominent spots on the joint ticket, Likud will become a radical right-wing party, aggressive and xenophobic, that revels in Israel's isolation and sees the Arab community as a domestic enemy and a danger to the state.

Netanyahu's turnabout is reminiscent of the change that Likud founder Menachem Begin underwent after his reelection in 1981. Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman served in Begin's first term, and led the negotiations that resulted in a peace accord with Egypt. The prominent figures in Begin's second term were Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Israel Defense Forces chief Refael Eitan, who worked with Begin to lead Israel into the disastrous war in Lebanon.

Netanyahu is gearing up for a similar turnabout. Ehud Barak, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin served in the outgoing cabinet; they pressed for a moderate foreign policy and showed the world a sane Israel. In Netanyahu's next term, they will disappear, or be neutralized, and the prime minister will lose even the appearance of moderation in Likud. He will be pushed into an aggressive foreign policy and will no longer be able to say the foreign minister doesn't represent the cabinet's positions - the standard renunciation of Lieberman, whenever he publicly attacked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, or Turkey, or any other country that raised his ire.

The turnabout will also be evident in domestic policy. Meridor and Begin, along with Michael Eitan and Reuven Rivlin, fought the outgoing cabinet over the existence of a liberal democracy that maintains human rights and those of minorities, in the face of pressure exerted by Lieberman and Netanyahu and his associates (led by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman ) in favor of the establishment of a nationalist state with an all-powerful cabinet. Now the checks and balances have been crushed to bits. Netanyahu is merging Likud - a party that has been characterized by internal democratic workings, by primaries and by party institutions - with the puppet ticket of Lieberman the dictator.

The merger between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu stemmed from weakness, but it also contains opportunity. It obligates the left-wing and centrist parties, primarily Labor, to offer an ideological and practical alternative to the war cabinet. In the face of "Likud Beiteinu," Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich can no longer conceal her political positions. In placing Lieberman at the front, Netanyahu has given the left a rival to fight, a reason to gather together the liberal, sane, moderate camp in this country. And in the meantime, Barak, Meridor, Begin and Eitan must quit the government immediately, rather than be tempted by the crumbs Netanyahu will offer them in exchange for making the Israeli public and the rest of the world think this deal is kosher.


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