News / Middle East

Israel Unity Deal Unlikely to Shift Iran Strategy

Shaul Mofaz, head of the centrist Kadima party, poses for a photo in his office at parliament in Jerusalem, before he was sworn in as a cabinet minister.
Shaul Mofaz, head of the centrist Kadima party, poses for a photo in his office at parliament in Jerusalem, before he was sworn in as a cabinet minister.

Former Israeli opposition leader Shaul Mofaz's surprise entry into Israel's ruling coalition this week appears unlikely to trigger a major shift in Israeli policy on Iran's nuclear program, analysts say.

The leader of Israel's centrist Kadima party was sworn in as Israeli vice premier this week after agreeing to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nationalist coalition in a unity government. Israel's parliament, the Knesset, approved the unity deal between Mofaz's Kadima and Netanyahu's Likud party on Wednesday by a vote of 71 to 23.

This political move has given rise to speculation in Israel that Netanyahu might be positioning for a military strike against Iran, which Israel accuses of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge and has vowed to retaliate if attacked.

Western powers have urged the Israeli government to hold off any attack on Iran in order to give stiff new sanctions a chance to bring Iran back to the negotiating table. A new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program is scheduled with world powers for later this month.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu told visiting European Union policy chief Catherine Ashton that Iran is stalling in the negotiations and demanded that Iran halt all uranium enrichment.

In announcing the new government, Netanyahu did not specifically mention Iran. And Kadima officials said Iran was not part of the negotiations that led to the new coalition.

But Mofaz, 63, a former Israeli military chief and defense minister, previously has joined Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders in warning that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to Israel's existence.

A political science professor at Hebrew University, Abraham Diskin, said the new coalition will probably solidify support for any decision on Iran.

"Different people in the government, especially in the enlarged government, have probably different opinions," Diskin said. "But I also think that once a decision is reached, one way or the other, it's going to be supported more easily by the Knesset and probably also by the public."

In a Jerusalem Post interview last month, Iranian-born Mofaz said that "allowing Iran to obtain even a civilian nuclear capability would change the balance of power in the Middle East," adding that "Israel cannot accept this."

He also said that if Israel sees Iran "getting closer to a military nuclear capability" and the United States failing to stop such progress, he will be "the first to support Israel taking action" against Iranian nuclear sites.

Boosting Netanyahu's stance
 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech to his Likud party members in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, May 6, 2012.Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech to his Likud party members in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, May 6, 2012.
x
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech to his Likud party members in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, May 6, 2012.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech to his Likud party members in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, May 6, 2012.
Netanyahu's government has long warned that military action is an option to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.


In an interview with VOA, London-based Middle East expert Yossi Mekelberg of Chatham House said Mofaz's security credentials lend credibility to Netanyahu's tough Iran stance.

"Bringing Mofaz into the government [allows the prime minister to] say, 'here is another military man, [who] knows what should be done and knows what he is doing," said Mekelberg.

In another boost to Netanyahu, his expanded 94-seat coalition in the 120-member Knesset gives him a huge majority to support any possible confrontation with Iran.

But, Mofaz also told the Jerusalem Post that the Iranian "sword" is not yet on Israel's "neck," as he put it.

Timing uncertain

Natan Sachs, an Israeli politics expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told VOA that Mofaz has been "more cautious" than Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak about the timing of action against Iran.

Netanyahu and Barak repeatedly have warned the international community that time is running out for negotiations and sanctions to pressure Iran to stop enriching uranium, a key nuclear weapon ingredient.

Last month, when Israel's former internal security chief Yuval Diskin accused the two men of exaggerating the perceived Iranian threat and the effectiveness of a military strike, Mofaz said he took those criticisms seriously.

Sachs said Mofaz, then opposition leader, made the comment partly to score political points against the government.  He said Mofaz also sent a message of skepticism about the urgency of military action.

Another sign of Mofaz's caution on Iran is his recent contention that the Iranian nuclear program is not Israel's biggest threat.

In the Jerusalem Post interview, the Kadima leader said Israel faces a greater danger of losing its Jewish majority if it has to absorb millions of Palestinian Arabs who do not get a state of their own.  

Both Sachs and Chatham House expert Mekelberg said the new Israeli vice premier's overall impact on the government's Iran strategy is hard to determine because of his reputation for changing positions on major issues.

One example is Mofaz's agreement to join a Netanyahu-led coalition two months after using his Facebook page to declare that he would not join what he called a "bad and failed" government.

Uncertainty over policy

An additional uncertainty in Mofaz's influence over Iran policy is his level of involvement in the decision-making process.

Under the Likud-Kadima agreement, Mofaz earns a position in an informal Israeli security cabinet that previously included eight senior members.

But Sachs said the Iran nuclear issue is so sensitive that just two members have been making most of the decisions: the prime minister and defense minister.

"It is too early to tell whether or not Mofaz will join the innermost circle of consultation between Mr. Netanyahu and Barak," Sachs said. "It very much depends on how Mr. Netanyahu views the partnership with Mofaz and how close he brings him into the discussions."

But the head of the PASSIA Palestinian think tank, Mahdi Abdul Hadi, says Israel is strengthening its military hand.

"I see the military generals, Mofaz, Barak and others, are joining ranks towards launching certain operations in the region in order to show the Israeli public some legitimacy of their authority as well as legitimacy for having such a coalition now," he said.

Ultimately, Hebrew University political analyst Peter Medding says, any decision to attack Iran is not likely to be made without the accord of Europe and the United States.

"The dangers of such activity are pretty clear," Medding said. "The chances of success are clouded to say the best. In broad terms it really makes no difference that Mofaz has gone into the Cabinet in terms of the major issues about Iran."

VOA's Bobb reported from Jerusalem and Lipin from Washington.


Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More