Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week appointeda major Iran hawk to lead Israel’s National Security Council under the new government.
Tzachi Hanegbi is a veteran Likud lawmaker and a longtime ally of Netanyahu who has repeatedly threatened in recent years that Israel would attack Iran if the US returns to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.
In his most recent threat, Hanegbi said that Netanyahu would order an attack on Iran if the US doesn’t secure a new nuclear deal or doesn’t take military action itself. He told Israel’s Channel 12 in November that in that situation, Netanyahu "will act, in my assessment, to destroy the nuclear facilities in Iran."
Netanyahu’s new government will be taking over soon as tensions between the US and Iran are soaring. Since JCPOA negotiations fell apart in September, the US has escalated its sanctions campaign against Iran.
Will this be Yoav Gallant and Benjamin Netanyahu's best chance to redo their missed opportunity in 2010 and attack Iran?
That Likud MK Yoav Gallant will be the next defense minister is not really news, seeing as it was leaked weeks ago. What could be news is whether Gallant entering the defense minister’s chair with a set of 12-year-old demons to exorcise could finally lead to the climactic war with Iran that many have predicted for a long time.
What demons of the past might Gallant be contending with, and why might the decision of incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint him as the new defense minister usher in an era of escalation against the Islamic Republic?
To answer that, we need to turn back the clock to August 6, 2010, when a debate of titans took place that would determine the course of Israeli history for the next decade.
Israel 2010: Yoav Gallant and the debated attack on Iran's nuclear program
On one side were then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak, who said they wanted to order a massive preemptive aerial strike against Tehran’s nuclear program to prevent it from crossing certain lines.
On the other side were then-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin – all of whom opposed any attack on Iran prior to the point where the nuclear “sword” was at Israel’s throat. In other words, they viewed Netanyahu and Barak as hysterically alarmist and jumping the gun when there were other options, like covert sabotage, to avoid a war.
Netanyahu and Barak backed off, but then settled on trying again once they had a new IDF chief of their choosing (Ashkenazi was appointed by former prime minister Ehud Olmert) who would take on their more aggressive approach to the Islamic Republic.
The perfect Netanyahu-Barak plan was derailed when Gallant was essentially disqualified as unworthy by state gatekeeper officials.
So is Netanyahu putting him in the Defense Ministry because he does not consider him a potential rival, and giving him a key high-profile role avoids helping such a rival?
Or has Netanyahu finally got the man he wanted running the defense establishment who can give him cover to strike Iran as he said he wanted more than a decade ago? Might Gallant also go rogue and order some of his own attacks, as some Israeli defense ministers have done in the past?
It is well known that a major reason the US invaded Iraq in 2003 was that a similar cohort of officials had wanted to take down Saddam Hussein in 1991, and they decided that during their next chance in office, they would finish the job.
Might this be Netanyahu and Gallant’s chance to redo their missed opportunity in 2010 to attack?