By Tom O’Connor
May 2, 2018
The Israeli parliament voted in favor Monday of granting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the ability to declare war with the sole approval of his defense chief under certain conditions.
Following a 20-minute presentation in which Netanyahu accused Iran of covertly pursuing nuclear weapons, reports emerged that the Israeli Knesset approved 62 to 41 the amendment to Israeli law regarding the authorization for the declaration of war. The new regime included a clause suggested by Netanyahu himself, one that requires only Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s approval to initiate a war “in extreme situations,” according to the state-run Kann News and Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The vote also came as President Donald Trump, seen as a key ally of Netanyahu, mulled scrapping a landmark nuclear deal negotiated with Iran by his predecessor in 2015. Trump has joined his top Middle Eastern allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as conservatives at home, in criticizing the deal for being too lenient and has threatened to walk away if its terms were not renegotiated by May 12.
Netanyahu proposed the change prior to his presentation during a debate on whether to transfer war powers from the prime minister’s entire cabinet to a smaller, security-focused cabinet, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. It was reportedly opposed by the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Constitution, Law and Justice Committees, but it was later voted on by the Knesset plenum. Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter brought it to another vote during the second and third readings of the bill.
The original war powers law dates back to Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, where Palestinians were one of the numerous factions contending for power in what would be 15-year civil war. Palestinians there were displaced by the creation of Israel and a failed uprising in Jordan, and Palestinian movements used the small Mediterranean country as a base to launch operations against Israel.
In response to Israel’s incursion, Iran helped create the Lebanese Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, which went to war with Israel a second time in 2006 and has clashed with it multiple times. Hezbollah has since developed into a powerful paramilitary force with international ties and has boosted its presence in Syria in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran and Russia. Israel has launched numerous airstrikes in Syria, targeting positions held by Iran and its allies, despite warnings of retaliation from Tehran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who helped Iranian President Hassan Rouhani negotiate the nuclear deal with the administration of President Barack Obama, dismissed Netanyahu’s accusations Monday. He compared it to Netanyahu’s 2012 appearance at the United Nations General Assembly, in which the Israeli leader brought a drawing of a cartoon bomb to illustrate Iran’s alleged path toward a nuclear weapon.
“BREAKING: The boy who can’t stop crying wolf is at it again. Undeterred by cartoon fiasco at UNGA. You can only fool some of the people so many times,” Zarif tweeted.
“Pres. Trump is jumping on a rehash of old allegations already dealt with by the IAEA to ‘nix’ the deal. How convenient. Coordinated timing of alleged intelligence revelations by the boy who cries wolf just days before May 12. But Trump’s impetuousness to celebrate blew the cover,” he added.
Multiple reviews by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Trump’s State Department have failed to turn up any evidence of Iran violating the nuclear agreement. Zarif has compared the Trump administration’s Iran policy to former President George W. Bush’s path to war with Iraq, which he accused of harboring weapons of mass destruction, a charge that later turned out to be unfounded.