President Barack Obama and his White House National Security team headed by Susan Rice have decided to seize on the political crisis besetting the Israeli government and the upcoming general election on March 17 for action to bar Binyamin Netanyahu’s reelection to a fourth term as prime minister.
This decision reverberated through Future party leader Yair Lapid’s assertion Wednesday night, Dec. 3, after he was sacked as finance minister, that Binyamin Netanyahu would not be next prime minister. He laid claim to the premiership himself.
The Obama administration has maintained close ties with Lapid during the foreshortened 22 month-life of the departing Israeli government.
The White House is still working on a detailed plan of action, but has lost no time in setting up appointments for the president to receive heads of the parties sworn to overthrow Netanyahu – among others, ex-minister Lapid, opposition leader Yitzhak Herzog of Labor and Tzipi Livni (The Movement), who was fired this week as Justice Minister along with Lapid.
They will be accorded attractive photo-ops with Obama and joint communiqués designed to signify to the Israeli voter that the US president would favor their election to the future government and the country as a whole would gain tangibly from a different government to the incumbent one.
This White House campaign would be accompanied by leaks from Washington for putting Netanyahu and his policies in a derogatory light. Messages to this effect were transmitted to a number of serving political figures as an incentive to jump the Likud-led ship to opposition ranks. The US administration has begun hinting that it may emulate the Europeans by turning the screws on Israel as punishment for the prime minister’s signature policy of developing West Bank and Jerusalem development construction.
Accounts reaching DEBKAfile speak of an outburst of joy in the White House over news of the Netanyahu government’s breakup. It was seen as an opportunity to finally get rid of Binyamin Netanyahu and a golden opportunity to bring Israel back to negotiations with the Palestinians with the Obama administration finally chalking up a success.
At the same time, some senior sources in the US capital confided to DEBKAfile that administration joy over political developments in Israel could quickly prove premature – either in view of another round of violence overtaking the Middle East, or by once again misreading Israel’s political map before stepping in and so failing in its object. But for now the circles around the US president are “highly optimistic” about their chances of forcing Netanyahu’s exit, comparing them to the former success of the first President George Bush in forcing the ouster of the late Yitzhak Shamir as Israeli prime minister in the 90s.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday night, Dec. 3, US Congress passed the US.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act that raises by $200 million the value of emergency US weapons stocked in Israel to a total of $1.8 billion, and guarantees Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors and foes. The motion, passed by a voice vote in the House after clearing the Senate unanimously last September, also promotes closer links in energy, water, homeland security, alternative fuel technology and cyber-security. The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature.