One day after the army managed to capture murdered Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi’s killers after a siege of the Jericho prison, spirits were low in the Likud, as its members feared the party would sink in the polls in favor of rival Kadima.
Security consultation (Photo: Ronny Sofer)
Netanyahu slammed Kadima’s plan for further withdrawals from the West Bank.
“Olmert’s strategic plan is faulty and dangerous, and this is what the Israeli voter is voting on at the ballots. The question each voter will ask himself is: do I agree to such a significant territorial retreat without anything in return and knowing that the lands will be transferred to Hamas, or should I choose Netanyahu’s uncompromising fight against Hamas?” the Likud chairman said.
Meanwhile, Likud officials said Wednesday morning: “This operation signifies our defeat."
In a desperate attempt to "save the situation," Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu summoned a number of former members of the defense establishment for a security consultation at his office Wednesday morning.
The meeting, which was only set Tuesday evening, was attended by former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, former IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General (res.) Dan Shomron and Major-General (res.) Yaakov Amidror.
Likud members fear that the Jericho operation will halt Kadima's drop in the weekend election polls. Netanyahu and his advisors have marked the coming weekend as critical for improving the party's situation in the poll, and particularly reaching the aspired target of 20 Knesset seats.
Likud sources said that the advantage of a ruling party in the elections is now realized after Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "orchestrated" a successful army operation.
Despite the fact that the Likud's spokesperson announced the security meeting a mere two hours before it was scheduled to take place, party members insisted that “the meeting was planned a long time ago and was supposed to be yesterday (Tuesday), but was delayed due to the IDF operation in Jericho.”
Likud faction Chairman MK Gideon Sa’ar maintained that the party was “carrying on calmly and as usual” following Tuesday’s events in Jericho.
“We will continue to sharpen the central issue of this election – Olmert’s disengagement plan,” Sa’ar said. “Our goal is to return the debate to this matter as quickly as possible. We supported the (Jericho) operation and its timing, as the evacuation of the foreign monitors created an operational opportunity that couldn’t be missed.”
Wednesday morning Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu was slated to hold a consultation meeting on the security situation, which Sa’ar explained was “to explain the dangers of Olmert’s retreat plan,” as presented by non-political figures from the security-diplomacy branches.”
'Whoever calls this a political ploy is hallucinating'
Infrastructure Minister Ronnie Bar-On told Ynet Wednesday that “in the insane reality of the elections, when Likud and Labor are headed by leaders who are frantic, lacking an agenda, and on the brink of hysteria, anything the government does is interpreted as a campaign ploy. I think the public understands this and is tired of it, and scorns these claims."
“Yesterday’s events proved once again that Israel has a responsible leadership which conducts itself rationally and decisively and doesn’t brandish empty slogans. We do not care if this influences the election polls or not," Bar-On said.
"As a party we are very interested in the election results and in the polls which affect the mood. As a government though, our only business is the interests of the state of Israel without any diversion that may result from the fact that we are in the midst of elections,” he added.
“Whoever dares raise the possibility that this was a political manipulation – that would border on a cynical hallucination. As successful as yesterday’s operation turned out to be, in these incidents there is never 100 percent surety. If we failed, god forbid, on top of the casualties and heartache, the political opposition would also have manipulated the situation and done their little dance on the blood spilt,” Bar-On said.
“We have a responsible government and a responsible Acting Prime Minister (Ehud Olmert) with good judgment, who doesn’t panic or act lawlessly like some of the others out there,” he concluded.
Kadima: Hoping for stability in the polls
Sources in Kadima claimed that the operation to capture murdered Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi’s killers will not necessarily recruit votes ahead of the elections.
“We have not yet determined (the effect) specifically, but in the meantime I would tend to believe that the operation will strengthen the allegiance of anyone who has already decided to vote Kadima, but no more than that,” Kadima’s senior strategic advisor Eyal Arad said Wednesday.
“This was an operation Israel wanted to do for a long time,” Arad said, and by chance Wednesday the circumstances demanded its accomplishment when British and United States monitors pulled out of the Jericho prison.
“But we weren’t the ones who set the circumstances,” Arad noted.
“The government and the IDF completed the operation successfully. This proves that we have a government that knows how to run things properly – both security and diplomacy matters – with rationality and professionalism,” he added.
Kadima members hoped that this weekend’s election polls would keep them comfortably in the lead. The party’s internal polls showed no change from weeks previous, suggesting that the Jericho operation had no direct effect on the vote.
“I don’t see dramatic changes thing week. What happened up until now is that we lost two Knesset seats to Lieberman’s Israel Our Home party, and we took two seats from Shinui. We had 38-39 seats before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s hospitalization, and we have the same number today," Arad said.
"The situation is stable. Altogether there are 6-8 undecided seats, and not, as some assessed, 24 undecided seats. Either way, they cannot completely reverse the expected results of the elections,” he added.
Ronny Sofer contributed to the report