This is how Benjamin Netanyahu campaigns for re-election?

Yoav Galant is a Major General in the IDF and formerly the head of its Southern Command, the unit that oversees operations in and around Gaza. He’s also a recent recruit to run for Knesset on the slate of the Kulanu Party, the new and maybe centrist-ish party that was founded by former Likud cabinet minister Moshe Kahlon. So he’s not a kook, at least not on paper. Galant is openly saying that the Israeli attack on Syria that killed several Hezbollah leaders and an Iranian general a couple of weeks ago was timed to maximize its impact on the upcoming Israeli election. That seems like a pretty serious charge, doesn’t it? Galant is citing a 2012 IDF missile strike that killed a top Hamas leader, Ahmed Jabari as his basis for the claim. Jabari’s assassination sparked a days-long conflict between the IDF and Hamas that boosted Netanyahu’s political fortunes a scant 2 months before January 2013 Knesset election. Galant contends that Jabari could have been taken out many times prior to the November 2012 strike, which makes the decision to kill him at that particular time…curious.

Well, here we are 2 months before the next Knesset election, and the Israelis have launched another attack that has sparked retaliation:

Fighting between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has left two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish peacekeeper dead, officials said Wednesday.

Separately, in Gaza, the United Nations said it was “outraged” when Palestinian protesters climbed the perimeter of a U.N. compound and damaged it. U.N. officials took Hamas to task for not preventing the incident.

The Hamas incident may not be related to the Quneitra attack, but it may wind up helping Bibi anyway.

If recent polling is any indication, Likud is in real danger of winding up a couple of Knesset seats short of the Labor Party when the votes are counted. It may be that the corruption scandal currently surrounding Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party will still shake out in a way that benefits Netanyahu, but it’s worth noting that Yisrael Beitenu’s constituency consists of right-wing voters who have already obviously rejected Likud, Israel’s preeminent right-wing party, for whatever reason. It can’t simply be assumed that they’ll migrate to Netanyahu now.

On that note, it’s beginning to look like Netanyahu’s decision to take John Boehner up on his offer to stick a thumb in Barack Obama’s eye come address Congress on the spooky dangers of negotiating with Iran could go down in political annals as a serious miscalculation. For one thing, you could you make a serious case that the negative attention the speech has drawn has contributed to the shocking turnaround on the Kirk-Menendez sanctions package, which looked like it was on the verge of passing with maybe a veto-proof majority a couple of weeks ago but that now won’t even get its co-author’s support until at least March 24.

More crucially for Netanyahu, though, is that the upcoming speech has generated major blowback for him in Israel, and in ways that chip at his two biggest electoral strengths, his serious statesmanship and his security credentials. Part of Netanyahu’s continued appeal despite personally low poll numbers is that he’s the only really heavyweight figure in Israeli politics right now, but the amateur hour fiasco that this speech has become erodes his ability to point at the rest of the field and say to voters, “come on, can you seriously imagine any of these people as PM?” Meanwhile, Netanyahu can look tough by standing up to American complaints to a point, but most Israelis are savvy enough to know that really provoking American anger is the last thing Israel needs.


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