Monday, October 29, 2012

The Russian and the Charmer

It's funny in a way how Israelis think of our leaders. As a young man, Bibi Netanyahu was thought of as a lady's man, a charmer. He's an excellent speaker, motivated, intimate. He gives you this feeling he is talking to you - and he can do it to a room of 20 people, 100 people, 1,000 people. As he did at the United Nations recently, he is a man that speaks from the hearts of many Israelis and you almost forget that it is his gift, to speak, to charm, to touch. The man is in his 60s; he's a grandfather, and still there is this element of charm about him.

Avigdor Leiberman moved to Israel in 1978. That's 35 years ago - and still he is thought of as the Russian - more, he thinks of himself that way. His outlook on life is very much Russian and that's how he runs his political party and his position as Foreign Minister. He is outspoken to say the least, even, at times, a bit of an embarrassment because his concept of diplomacy involves a sledge hammer. Democracy is a concept to him; security a reality.

Both men are, above all else, pragmatic. They will defy logic and critics to shake up the political spectrum. Bibi has done it several times. A few months ago, polls guaranteed him a sure win if he called early elections. The announcements were made; dates were discussed and then, in the dead of night, he made a deal to unite with Kadima. No surprise to anyone, that deal fell apart rather quickly and Israel is once again on the path to elections.

And then another shocker - rather than make a post-election deal to have Yisrael Beitenu (Lieberman's party) join a coalition, the two men announced a joint ticket where the parties would run together. Israel was in an uproar - they had most definitely outmaneuvered the left. They had, to a degree, surprised the right wing as well.

As part of that agreement, Netanyahu announced that Lieberman might even become Secretary of Defense. I did a quick Google search and found that Lieberman had indeed done army service. I smiled when I saw he had been in Artillery, as Elie was. Lieberman finished as a "Corporal" according to Google. That would make him, I think, a רב טוראי. By contrast, Elie finished the army two ranks above as a First Sergeant.

What qualifications could Lieberman have to be Secretary of Defense? I asked Elie and his answer surprised me. I had considered the possibility of this man filling this position a joke - Elie was not nearly as pessimistic or surprised.

It was an analysis that I find myself agreeing with. No one thinks Lieberman is stupid - far from it. What he is, is loud and decisive. He doesn't care about diplomacy - he is most assuredly strong-willed. "If he threatens Iran," Elie said, "the world is going to believe he's crazy enough to follow through."

While the world might doubt someone else, they will believe that an Israeli army under Lieberman would be not only ready and able, but willing and even anxious to attack. That alone might really spur the world to stop Iran. And, added Elie, Bibi knows this.

Though I won't vote for them - perhaps Bibi is right. He will, barring some major stupid action on his part, win the upcoming election. By taking in Lieberman, he has sent a strong message to the left parties - they will have no place in the upcoming coalition. Not only will they remain in the opposition, they will be further weakened as Israelis, in reaction to many world events, turns just that much further to the right.

The left wing will not join a government in which Lieberman serves. He once said, "The peace process is based on three false basic assumptions; that Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main cause of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict." The first of those has been proven again and again in the last year (Arab Spring). On the second and third point, it is something Israelis for the most part have accepted for a long time - but the world (media, Obama, etc.) still fail to understand.

But I liked Elie's interpretation, liked even better his analysis. Avidgor Lieberman is seen as the big ferocious,  Russian bear - let the world be afraid. Let them think that Avigdor Lieberman is a warmongering right wing fanatic that will lead us to war. Let them think it because in their fear, the nations of the world may react, they may stop a madman from carrying out his threat.

And, if they don't stop him, if Israel will have to act to protect its citizens, perhaps the Russian and the Charmer make a good combination. Certainly better than anything Kadima, Labor, etc. has to offer. So, yalla - on to the elections.

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