Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1139, 14 - 20 March 2013
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1139, 14 - 20 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Israel’s new war cabinet

A mix of settler fanatics and military hawks will make up the core of Netanyahu’s new cabinet — an ominous sign of times to come, writes Saleh Al-Naami in Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

Luxurious villas with red tile roofs dot the countryside surrounded by plush greenery and breath-taking natural beauty while traffic moves calmly in the morning as if all is well and normal. It is not. This romantic scene is from the settlement of Har Adar Jewish settlers built on land in the West Bank occupied by Israel in 1967.
The vast majority of the settlement’s residents were thrilled by Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, who will become finance minister in the new cabinet. Some 60 per cent of residents there voted for his party in the last elections and hope Lapid will use his new post to channel more aid to the settlement so they can expand its infrastructure and bring in more settlers.
While settlers are counting on Lapid, who claims to represent the centre, they are relying even more on settlement leaders who will join the new government. Settlement leaders are so influential in the new government some commentators have even called it a “settler government”.
Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home) Party, representing settlers, will have control of four key ministries, including the ministries of housing and industry and trade. Uri Ariel, a radical settlement leader, is the new minister of housing — the ministry primarily in charge of settlement and Judaisation projects in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem. Ariel reassured settlers he is committed to forging ahead with settlement plans, since this “represents the will of the Israeli masses”.
At every opportunity, Ariel mocks Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who insists Israel must halt settlement building before peace talks restart. “The land they call the West Bank is an inherent part of Israeli territories,” he told Israel Radio Sunday morning. “We will not abandon our right to build on any part of our land. If the Israeli people are given a choice between exercising their national rights or negotiating with Arabs, they will certainly choose to exercise their right to build on their land.”
While Ariel reassures fellow settlers that settlement plans will not stop, the leader of his party, Naftali Bennett, the new minister of industry and trade, has promised settlers his ministry will be dedicated to comprehensively improving their living conditions. Bennett, who previously served as director general of the Jewish Settlement Council, promised settlers he would construct large industrial compounds near major settlements to provide job opportunities for settler youth close to their homes, so they don’t have to travel into the heart of Israel for work.
The new cabinet includes eight ministers who live in settlements in the West Bank, while the sweeping majority of members of the new government are known for their support for the settlement project. As well as serving settlements, there are signs Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu intends to transform his new cabinet into a war government.
Netanyahu chose Moshe Yaalon, the former army chief of staff, as his minister of defence. Yaalon is known for his enthusiasm for military escalation against Arabs, and supports the option of military force to thwart Iran’s nuclear project. In the midst of the second Intifada (uprising), Yaalon was the army head responsible for approving all assassinations against Palestinian activists (most of these assassinations killed and injured hundreds of Palestinian civilians). Testimonials by generals and senior officers who served under Yaalon not only confirm his extremism but also his recklessness. They say he is willing to take many military risks that could affect many parties in the region. For example, Yaalon has said several times after the 25 January Revolution in Egypt, Israel has the right to carry out military operations in the heart of Sinai to guarantee absolute security on the border with Egypt.
There are many indicators Netanyahu will use minister placement to serve his plans towards Iran. Although there is strong opposition by the military and political elite in Tel Aviv to using force against Iran’s nuclear programme (and the Obama administration clearly objects to this course of action because of its negative effect on US interests), many Israeli commentators are certain Netanyahu still believes in the effectiveness of military action against Iran.
The group responsible for taking difficult and sensitive decisions will be the “limited cabinet for security affairs” that includes no more than eight senior ministers. Ari Shavit, political commentator at Haaretz newspaper, believes Netanyahu intends to have a majority on the council who support using force against Iran’s nuclear project.
Shavit cites the example of Minister Yuval Steinitz, who secured a seat in the new parliament with great difficulty since he was at the bottom of the ruling Likud’s list. Netanyahu intends to appoint him to the limited cabinet for security affairs because among Likud leaders Steinitz is the most devoted to Netanyahu. He courts the prime minister by drawing parallels between Netanyahu and former British prime minister Winston Churchill who was key in defeating the Nazis during World War II. Steinitz claims Netanyahu will play a critical role in “ridding the world of the evils of the Iranian regime, because he will succeed in preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons”.
Strong objections inside military and security institutions to using force against Iran could cause Netanyahu in the end to escalate confrontations on fronts that have become agitated, especially Syria and Lebanon. Israeli media constantly report the Israeli army is racing against time to hold military exercises and games to prepare for upcoming confrontations.
In the first phase, these could be against Hizbullah, followed by Syrian revolutionaries. Some believe Hizbullah’s growing military power in recent times because of weapons received from Syria and Iran, will lead to Israel targeting it and crushing its strength, or most of it. Some of the ruling elite in Tel Aviv openly talk about striking Hizbullah as a pre-emptive step before Israel attacks Iran, since they believe Hizbullah will be in charge of responding to Israel if Tel Aviv attacks Iranian nuclear facilities. Thus, Hizbullah’s capability of attacking Israel must be annulled before Tel Aviv takes action against Tehran.
Meanwhile, there is consensus inside Israel that the Syrian front represents a major challenge for Israel in light of signs that Bashar Al-Assad’s regime is close to collapse. Syrian opposition forces control large areas in the Golan Heights on the border with Israel, and Tel Aviv claims most of the Syrian opposition at the border are members of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, which adopts the positions and beliefs of Al-Qaeda. Thus, there is cause to believe these groups will turn their guns against Israel, especially Jewish settlements built on occupied Golan land by Israel during the 1967 war.
Israeli elites are urging the new Israeli government to send a strong message to the Syrian opposition that any attempt to upset the 40-year calm on the border between the two sides will trigger a strong response by Israel.
In short, the new Israeli government will be a war and settlements cabinet, and Arab parties that hoped the last Israeli elections would induce change in Israel’s positions will have to wait for an opportunity that may never come.

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