Benyamin Netanyahu insisted that he had made the decision to assassinate Bahaa Abu al-Atta together with the heads of the armed forces and intelligence services and with the approval of the security cabinet, and that he was thinking only about “the good of Israel,” without considering the political advantages he would reap from the elimination of the military commander of the Islamic Jihad.
Few believe these claims by the Likud leader and incumbent prime minister, starting with the editors of Haaretz: one of them, Chemi Shalev, accused him of thinking first and foremost about his political and legal situation.
Nonetheless, with this move Netanyahu can be said to have decisively won the battle on the Israeli political scene. When Abu Al Atta was assassinated together with his wife and Islamic Jihad began firing rockets into Israel in retaliation, all the Zionist parties in the Knesset, both right and center-left, rallied together in the name of Israeli security.
As a result, the possibility that Benny Gantz, the head of the Blue-White centrist party who has received the mandate to form a government, would consider forming a minority government without Likud and Netanyahu, with the outside support of the 13 deputies of the United Arab List (UAL), was immediately ruled out.
When Ayman Odeh, the head of the UAL, expressed his condemnation against the return of the policy of “targeted assassinations” of Palestinians and denounced the fact that Netanyahu’s personal interests had been the motivation behind the attack, the Blue-White caucus, with Gantz at its head, quickly lined up to defend the Likud prime minister, their main political opponent. The calls began to form a national unity government capable of conducting yet another offensive against Gaza.
It was a real success for Netanyahu, who managed to back Gantz into a corner. The Blue-White leader is aware that he was set up, but he can’t make the accusation publicly, because it would go against the national state of emergency in effect after the assassination of Abu al-Atta.
“It’s hard to believe that Netanyahu didn’t think about the political implications of this matter,” the analyst Michael Warshansky tells us. “[The Israeli Prime Minister] has once again demonstrated exceptional political flair. In this way, he made sure he’ll have a place in the future government and a protective shield from the possible indictment for corruption that he will have to face in the next few months.”
Gantz has less than a week left to get past his reluctance and complete the task of forming a new government. Now that the option of a minority government is off the table, it is likely that Avigdor Lieberman—who is the current kingmaker on the political scene with the eight seats won by his Yisrael Beiteinu party, representing the Russian-speaking community—will try to convince Gantz to agree to the proposal made by President Reuven Rivlin: that he should include Netanyahu in the new government, accepting the reassurances that the outgoing premier would go on “sabbatical” if he is indicted.
In order to avoid the third general elections in one year, Gantz can only bow down and swallow the bitter pill: he has done everything he could to oust Netanyahu, but he’ll end up having him always by his side, proudly boasting that he took out Abu al-Atta to boot.