'Lieberman decided it was the right moment to position himself as an alternative to Netanyahu'
Photo: Gil Yohanan
On the backdrop of the cabinet's discussions in recent days in an attempt to come up with a proper response to the escalation in the south, Avigdor Lieberman's associates presented an original and sarcastic proposal.
Instead of instructing the security forces that "calm will be met with calm," the foreign minister's aides suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stick to a slightly different message: "Rocket fire will be met with calm."
This sarcastic remark basically conceals the trigger for the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman's dramatic decision to end the political partnership with the Likud. The restraint Netanyahu is forcing on the defense establishment, as it faces the huge rocket arsenal Hamas has accumulated in recent years, was in fact the last straw that broke the camel's back which was barely carrying the faltering Likud Beiteinu unity.
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But there is a political side to this story as well: Lieberman's dramatic decision was also driven by the feeling that the Netanyahu government's days are numbered. In other words, many in the political system are convinced that this is Netanyahu's last term as prime minister – and there are those who are already setting their eyes on the soon-to-be vacant seat.
When former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wanted to imply that a politician's time was limited, he would present a metaphor from the agricultural world: "When a hen began bleeding, her friends would peck her to death." The coalition leaders are implementing this proverb very well: As they smell the blood around him, they believe he has lost his power and charm and are willing to start pecking.
Political sources estimate that the prime minister's confused conduct in the presidential election process and his hasty and failed attempt to change the government system in Israel mark the beginning of the end. Lieberman apparently reached a similar conclusion and decided that it was the right moment to position himself as an alternative to Netanyahu.
It's important to remember that Lieberman's hawkish rightist views are not fundamentally different from Netanyahu's, but his security perception is that the army must create a new strategic reality in the Gaza Strip. He hasn't hidden his frustration over the relatively restrained proposals that the army leaders are presenting in the cabinet meetings – but he is careful not to express this frustration in public.
In the last election campaign, Netanyahu had a clear advantage over any other candidate for prime minister. Now, heading a part of only 20 Knesset members – many of whom disagree with him loudly – he has lost that advantage. There is a feeling of elections in the air. And Lieberman is the first, but not to only one, to sense it.