Twelve years of leadership by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu ended on June 13. Politically controversial at home, the former prime minister (PM) unfailingly backed the United States and opposed Hamas terrorists in Gaza as well as Israel’s other enemy neighbors. Bibi was resolute in defending the Israeli homeland in the recent Hamas missile and rocket attacks on Israeli population centers, even when strong support from the United States was late in coming.
In the end, Netanyahu failed to extend his time in office when Naftali Bennett won a confidence vote in Knesset with the narrowest of margins. According to Gil Hoffman, writing for The Jerusalem Post, of the 120 Members of the Knesset (MK), 60 voted for a new government with Bennett as the new prime minister and 59 opposed. Only MK Saeed Alharomi of the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party abstained from voting.
President Joe Biden congratulated Bennett about two hours after the new PM assumed power — a marked contrast to his cool treatment of Netanyahu. Both the United States and Israel rely on a mutually beneficial strategic relationship, so Biden’s outreach was seen as a good diplomatic move. The White House statement on Biden’s phone call with Bennett explained:
“President Biden spoke today with Prime Minister Bennett to offer his warm congratulations to Prime Minister Bennett on becoming Prime Minister of the State of Israel. President Biden highlighted his decades of steadfast support for the U.S.-Israel relationship and his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security. He expressed his firm intent to deepen cooperation between the United States and Israel on the many challenges and opportunities facing the region. The leaders agreed that they and their teams would consult closely on all matters related to regional security, including Iran.”
Building that relationship will require some “getting to know you” moments. As much as Netanyahu was a household name in the United States, Bennett is not. He is a businessman who did well in the high-tech software market, having started and sold two companies. According to The Jerusalem Post staff, his net worth increased by about $275 million. Bennett, who served as MK Netanyahu’s chief of staff, got crosswise with Bibi’s wife Sara and was barred from the Likud Party.
Politics in Israel Can Be Brutal
The new prime minister led the “right-wing, religious-Zionist Bayit Yehudi Party” in 2013 to a substantial pickup of 12 seats in the Knesset and served as the economy minister and religious affairs minister. Later, Bennett served as the education minister under Netanyahu, though it appears he would rather have developed an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) portfolio. During the COVID pandemic, Bennett showed himself to be resourceful in prompting the IDF to supply the Israeli health system with technology and to use sanitoriums and hotels efficiently.
In May 2020, Bennett broke with the pro-Netanyahu camp and called for the prime minister to step down. In March 2021, Bennett led his party to gain seven seats in the Knesset in the latest election. By all accounts, he is much more of a centrist, and he will have his work cut out for him.
To paraphrase Dylan Thomas, Bibi, after suffering defeat, did not go gentle into that good night. As reported by Fox News, the former prime minister “used his final speech in front of the Knesset Sunday to vow a swift return to office, attack his replacement and call out the Biden administration’s effort to revive the nuke deal with Iran.” Netanyahu described his successor as a “political lightweight who does not have the talent to handle the job.”
The former PM pointed out that the U.S. had asked him “not to discuss our disagreement on Iran publicly. But with all due respect, I can’t do that.”
Edmund DeMarche, reporting for Fox News, quoted The Jerusalem Post account of Netanyahu’s speech, explaining that “[t]he paper said Netanyahu compared the attempt by the U.S. to return to the Iran nuke deal to the decision by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt not to bomb the train track that led to Auschwitz — the concentration camp — when there was an opportunity in 1944.”
To say that the Middle East challenges that lie ahead for Israel and the United States are manifest is a gross understatement. One thing is clear: The U.S. cozying up to Iran on the “nuke deal” will not be met with Israeli approval.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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