You don't have to be a political strategist to realize that Benjamin Netanyahu can take advantage of the Iranian nuclear threat to divert attention from his failure to provide solutions for the economic troubles of his citizens. His partner, Ehud Barak, also realizes that the future of his political career depends entirely on his ability to 'market' himself as a defense minister for times of peril - real or fictitious.
The Iranian nuclear threat has become the lifeline that connects these two swashbucklers. How ironic is it that they owe their political future to Ahmadinejad. And he doesn't disappoint. Whenever it seems that Israel's domestic woes have moved back to the top of the country's agenda, the kind Iranian president releases another statement regarding Israel's imminent demise.
But amid the argument regarding how Netanyahu and Barak should approach the Iranian threat, a very important question is being overlooked: How much do they really care about the welfare of the citizens of Israel, those they claim must be defended with a preemptive attack on Iran that may ignite the entire Middle East?
Apart from the 1999 campaign, during which Barak repeatedly mentioned his commitment to promoting a social agenda, he never showed a real interest in the citizens' welfare. Indeed, his government did not introduce any major advancement in the social field. The man has always been a neo-liberal who supports granting excessive benefits to the private sector and reducing government expenditure on social services. The characteristics of Barak's business career, which was launched when he took a temporary break from politics, seemed to coincide with his ideology.
Netanyahu, for his part, is guided by nationalist fervor and is driven by a fear for the existence and fate of the Jewish nation – a fear that originates in the crematoriums of Auschwitz. On the other hand, he is completely oblivious to the financial distress of the Israeli people. He is a kind of political Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. While he wants to do everything in his power to lift any existential threat against the nation, he views society as a sort of Darwinist jungle in which only the strong have the right to exist.
Netanyahu refuses to acknowledge the simple truth that the economy is supposed to serve society – all of society – and not the other way around, and he was never too troubled by the fact that the gap in Israel between the rich and poor is one of the largest in the Western world.
Few have access to quality health services (Photo: Haim Horenstein)
Netanyahu doesn’t lose any sleep over the fact that the poverty rate in Israel is also among the highest in the western world, young couples cannot afford to purchase apartments, public education is collapsing and only a select few have access to quality health services.
So, while he exerts so much effort in providing an answer to the military threats on his citizens, Netanyahu does not hesitate to abuse them with an unrestrained capitalist policy. He fails to understand that these socio-economic wrongs pose a real strategic threat to the resilience of Israeli society, just as much as the external threats do.
Even now, after we have learned of the huge hole in the state budget, Netanyahu refuses remains adamant in his refusal to change his priorities. Instead, he places the burden on the middle class and on the weaker sectors of society, which are asked to pay the price for his failed economic policy.
The prime minister knows that the public will not accept the new economic measures, so he is delaying the announcement on the 2013 budget. He fears that his budget proposal will anger the public and lead to the renewal of the social protest. Maybe he is waiting for Ahmadinejad to make another statement regarding the destruction of the "Zionist entity." Then the public will be distracted from the economic measures and focus on the looming Iranian threat.
Therefore, now is the time for the Israeli public to display political maturity and refuse to fall victim to Netanyahu's diversions. Now is the time for the Israeli public to clarify to its leaders that society's internal resilience is just as important as the country's military capability to face external threats, as grave as they may be.
Professor Yossi Yona is a lecturer at Ben Gurion University and a Senior Fellow at Jerusalem's Van Leer Institute.