Rivals back Netanyahu in deal that could mandate strike on Iran (INDEPENDENT UK) CATRINA STEWART JERUSALEM 05/09/12)
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Dramatic agreement with centrist Kadima party keeps hawkish Israeli
PM in power until late 2013
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel´s Prime Minister, has cancelled snap
elections and formed a national unity government with the largest
opposition party in a dramatic deal that would give the hawkish
premier a commanding mandate should he choose to strike against Iran.
The surprise deal with Shaul Mofaz, leader of the centrist Kadima
party, comes two days after Mr Netanyahu called early elections for
September, and puts the Prime Minister at the helm of one of the
largest and broadest governments in Israel´s history, with a 94-seat
majority in the 120-member Knesset.
Mr Netanyahu, who had headed a narrow right-wing coalition dominated
by his Likud party, said the deal would stabilise the current
government. Emerging rifts with his ultra-nationalist and religious
partners had prompted his call for early polls.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Mofaz, he said: "I was
ready to go to elections. But when I learned that a very broad
government can be established... I realised stability can be
restored. That is why I have decided to form a broad national unity
government." Mr Mofaz approached the premier a few days ago with the
proposal during a condolence visit after the death of Mr Netanyahu´s
father. Apart from insiders within Likud and Kadima, details of the
unity talks were kept secret until the deal was struck early
yesterday, taking politicians by surprise.
Analysts handed Mr Netanyahu credit for the deal, which keeps him in
power at least until elections in October 2013. The premier said the
new political alignment would allow him to overhaul a law allowing
Israel´s ultra-Orthodox minority to avoid military service, and to
reform the electoral system, making it harder for fringe parties to
cross the electoral threshold.
But crucially, it gives him a powerful political mandate at a time of
heightened tensions with Iran, potentially making it easier for him
to convince voters of his credentials to lead Israel in a pre-emptive
strike on Iran´s nuclear facilities, should he choose to do so. Some
analysts noted that Israel´s national unity governments have formed
in the past at a time of war, and hinted there could be an
understanding with Mr Mofaz, a former army chief of staff, regarding
a pre-emptive strike on Iran´s nuclear facilities. The Israeli leader
and his Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, are widely believed to favour
such an attack despite opposition at home and abroad.
But the presence of Mr Mofaz, who in opposition had been cautious on
action against Iran, could also neutralise domestic criticism should
a military strike fail.
The deal could also give the premier a freer hand in negotiations
with the Palestinians amid efforts by his pro-settler coalition
partners to derail talks, although Mr Netanyahu´s commitment to
reviving the stagnated peace process also remains in question.
Mr Mofaz, who only two months ago vowed he would never join a
government headed by Mr Netanyahu, was harshly criticised for
throwing in his hat with Likud.
But with opinion polls showing that Kadima, the largest party in the
current Knesset, was heading towards a crushing defeat at the next
elections with its 28 seats expected to plummet to only 10 or 11,
joining forces with Likud became a matter of political survival.
Some questioned just how much influence Mr Mofaz, who becomes a
Deputy Prime Minister, will exercise in the new government.
"This is a very, very cynical kind of political stunt," said Channel
10´s Nadav Eyal, adding that the deal meant "the central party in
opposition has now become a surrogate of Likud and Netanyahu, and
almost no doubt will be completely dependent on the Prime Minister."
Shelly Yachimovich, who becomes the new opposition leader as head of
the centre-left Labour party, attacked the deal as a "pact of
cowards", calling it "the most contemptible and preposterous zigzag
in Israel´s political history".
Power players: The new coalition
Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud)
The most influential figure in the new government. Supports pre-
emptive strike on Iran. Has blamed his pro-settler coalition partners
and the Palestinians for stagnation of peace talks.
Ehud Barak (Independence)
Early elections would have meant the Defence Minister´s likely
departure from the cabinet, depriving Mr Netanyahu of a powerful ally
in pushing for a strike on Iran.
Shaul Mofaz (Kadima)
A former Defence Minister and army chief, he bolsters the cabinet´s
war experience should Mr Netanyahu push for a strike on Iran. He
favours a partial withdrawal from the West Bank.
Avi Dichter (Kadima)
A former director of Israel´s Shin Bet security service, who will
head the Knesset´s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. He remains
dovish on Iran, believing the US should lead any military action.
UN nuclear inspector killed in Iran
A UN nuclear inspector from South Korea was killed and a colleague
was injured in a car crash near a reactor site in central Iran
There were no immediate indications of foul play, but the crash is
likely to come under intense scrutiny. The official Islamic Republic
News Agency said the International Atomic Energy Agency inspector
died when the car overturned near a heavy water reactor being built
in Khondab, about 150 miles south-west of Tehran.
Iran says the reactor – part of the Arak complex – will be used to
produce isotopes for peaceful medical and industrial uses. But the US
and others fear that spent fuel from the reactors could be
reprocessed into plutonium for a warhead. Iran denies it seeks
The news agency identified the dead inspector as Seo Ok-seok and says
another inspector from Slovakia was injured in the crash and taken to
hospital. AP (©independent.co.uk 05/09/12)
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