Bang! A starting gun shooting blanks. The candidates are off and running in the Israeli Knesset sweepstakes.
Nine of them have taken the field thus far, on the track for would-be prime minister in Israel.
Israel’s electoral system allows for candidates to run for prime minister on one ballot, while there is a second ballot for political parties running for seats in the the knesset.
At present count, there are twenty of those, and any party that garners at least 1.5% of the votes is guaranteed parlimentary representation. Bang Again. But this time, deadly missiles. They screech in from southern Lebanon, an area under the de-facto control of neighboring Syria.
On the first day of campaigning for forthcoming election election of 1999, almost the entire Israeli cabinet, arrived at the missile-torn town of Kiryat Shmoneh on Israel’s northern border and posed for photographs with bombed-out Israeli homes as the backdrop.
Incumbent Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a seemingly impromtu press conference. His stage was a gaping hole that had been an Israeli family’s living room window
His role was tough-talking leader, surrounded by a chorus of Israel Defence Forces general staff, declaiming that Israel will fight back…. It was rhetoric among the ruins, with Netanyahu’s problems of yesteryear/yesterday pushed off into the winds. There is nothing like screeching missiles to drown out the thunder of political opponents.
But the scriptwriters for the forthcoming months of the Israeli election campaign may well be Syria’s president Hafez El-Assad and the Palestine Authority boss, Yassir Arafat. Their promises of violence make them the unlikely cynosures as well as the manipulators of something of which they have no experience at all – a democratic election.
Assad is frustrated by the new Turkish-Israeli-Jordanian axis, and is flexing his muscles. He knows full well that the people of Israel are weary of the war of attrition on their northern border that has been dragging on for a decade and a half. He also knows that in the short term Netanyahu may react with daring military repostes into Syrian-controlled territory in Lebanon, to hit the supply bases of Syrian-sponsored Hizballah terrorists who have been conducting systematic attacks on northern Israel.
If Netanyahu does take seemingly strong action against Assad, it will will go over well with the Israeli electorate. However, There are sources in Israeli intelligence who say that this is what exactly what Assad wants – the reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu.
The theory is that Syria could do better in negotiations with an Israeli leader who apparently represents the national camp, than with a leader who was elected from an Israeli left wing leader who would have to contend with a strong opposition from nationalist side. In March, 1995, when the former Labor-Meretz goverment was in power, Israel’s president Ezer Weitsman, himself a former IDF intelligence chief, told a group of professors oriented toward Netanyahu’s Likud party, that his assessment was that Syrian president Assaad indeed preferred Netanyahu as the next prime minister of Israel.
As for Arafat, his Palestine Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) reports that Arafat has flashed the green light to his Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) for an upsurge of attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets. They will be timed to coincide with the Israeli election campaign.
Just last month, the Washington Institute for Near East policy studies, (that was once directed by the current state department middle east policy-makers, Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross) issued a 50 page briefing paper on the Palestine Liberation Army. The report warns that the PLA now has well-organized military infrastructure and can pose a serious threat to the IDF in any future confrontation.
Arafat’s spokesmen openly state on PBC radio and PBC TV that, with alks stalled during the election campaign, that he will not be able to control violence. On December 22nd and December 23rd, 1998, Arafat held talks with Nayif Hawatma, the head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). This was only ten days after Hawatma, had just coordinated a conference in Damascus of the ten Palestinian groups that oppose any peace process whatsover. Arafat used the occasion to issue a public promise that the groups opposing the peace process would not be disarmed or disenfranchised.
At the same time, Arafat also announced that the Hamas leader, Achmed Yassin, was to be released from two months of house arrest, even though the Hamas leader issued public proclamations that he order HAMAS members to kill Israelis.
And in another development, two Palestinian terrorists recently convicted of murdering Israelis “escaped” from a Palestine Authority maximum security jail in jail. (This writer had served as a guard at that very same jail as part of IDF reserve duty, and can attest to the fact that neither the prisoners nor the guards can “escape” the three walls that surround the prison itself)
It would be a likely scenario if Arab terror attacks on Israeli civilian or military targets during an Israeli election campaign will drive Netanyahu to take forceful military action against the Hamas/DFLP bases that operate with PA sanction. Arafat will condemn the actions, yet at the same time benefit from any harm dome to these groups who represent his domestic political opponents.
IDF attacks on the PA could restore Netanyahu’s credibility, at once making his opponents in Israel’s nationalist camp look irrelevant, and making the “peace camp” look sympathetic to the Arab cause
Netanyahu will sound believable and convincing when he is in the throes of fighting Palestinian violence. After all, not only did he produce three vooks on terrorism, he is also the brother of the heroic Yonatan Netanyahu, slain in the raid in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976, when more than one hundred Israeli hostages were rescued from their Arab and German captors.
Promoting military counterattacks against Syrian-backed Hizbullah and/or PA terrorists may restore the popularity of the incumbent prime minister.
Thus, Assad & Arafat can make Netanyahu re-electable, with the thought that a nationalist, seemingly hardline goverment with a small margin of victory can make concessions, while a leftwing Israeli regime will have too strong an opposition from the nationalist camp.
Besides, Arafat and Assad assume that they can call in the US to press Israel very hard after any Israeli military action. That is because the US quietly and officially removed both Syria and the PLO from the lists of entities that sponsor terror activity.