With Dichter Quitting Kadima To Join Netanyahu's Team, Is Israel More Likely To Attack Iran Now?

ANALYSIS

 @MayaErgas on August 14 2012 2:47 PM
Avi Dichter, Avraham Dicther
File photo of Dichter, former head of Israeli General security service, speaking during news conference in Tel Aviv. Dichter resigned his post in his party Kadima this morning, with many speculating about why. Reuters

Former Member of the Knesset and Kadima party member Avraham Dichter turned in his resignation letter from the party on Tuesday morning, leaving in his wake a trail of anger from other party members, and questions about what his new position - Home Front Defense Minister - could mean for any rumored plans the Israeli government might have for an attack on Iran.

The Israeli government drew criticism during the 2006 war against Hezbollah for not being sufficiently prepared to defend the home front and Israeli citizens from attacks from Lebanon. And that is why, according to Natan Sachs, a Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, Dichter's new post in the Israeli Government is being interpreted by many as a sign that defense minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are gearing up for an attack on Iran.

"Dichter himself is not known as a hawk," Sachs said. "Politically he's not very close to Netanyahu or Barak, and so politically this is quite a dramatic move."

"Observers in Israel are convinced Netanyahu and Barak are quite serious [about attacking Iran]," said Sachs, "But there is a strong sense in Israel that many of the ministers around Netanyahu and Barak are much more cautious. Dichter himself is not known to be hawkish on this [issue]. But he is part of the security establishment. They could be shoring up."

Dichter also has yet to publicly endorse an attack on Iran, remarking to the Israeli news outlet YNet News that the Iranian threat "is not strictly an Israeli problem. Israel must build attack capabilities for when the time comes. We must [be aware] of a situation where it becomes apparent the threat is such that there is no choice but to attack. There are many things to do until that time."

On the other hand, it could all be for nothing.

Sachs said it's very hard to tell if the Israeli government is bluffing, or actually fortifying itself for an attack.

"If they were orchestrating a bluff and pressuring the world to give in to attacking Iran, it would look the same as this," Sachs said of Dichter's new appointment. "It's hard to judge what they [the government] are thinking."

But another factor in Dichter's party departure, said Sachs, could simply be that his former party is not as popular as it once was.

Kadima, the centrist party in Israel and currently the largest majority in the Knesset, has been widely seen as a sinking ship.

"Kadima is doing terribly in the polls," Sachs explained. "Everyone considers it to be a disaster. His leaving Kadima is politically shrewd, he is leaving a sinking ship. He once considered running for the head of the party, and now he's leaving."

Dichter's departure has drawn ire from fellow Kadima members, but also has been taken as an indicator that Kadima is well and truly finished. Kadima party member Yoel Hasson told the Jerusalem Post "Dichter was clearly a Trojan horse in Kadima in recent years ... preparing in advance to join the Likud [an opposition party] at any price," he said. "I have no doubt that Dichter will not contribute anything to this bloated government, and this will be his last political job."

But Knesset speaker and Likud party member Danny Danon remarked to the Jerusalem Post that Dichter's move heralds the end of the "supermarket party," in a slap at the party for seeking to be all-inclusive.

"Kadmia is falling apart, and the end is near for the supermarket party," he said.

Dichter himself took to his Facebook page after resigning, writing that, "After much deliberation which I hid from no one, I have decided to accept the prime minister and defense minister's proposal to be appointed home front defense minister. Personal and partisan considerations were edged aside and I have chosen to serve the state the best way I can. I promise all those who supported me and continue to support me, and there are many: your support has allowed me to serve the country until today and will allow me to continue to serve it."

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