Olmert defended Dagan and Diskin by saying that they have "contributed much more to the safety of Israel than those who are criticizing them." He ended the battle on a sober note, staying, "These people are not necessarily enemies of Israel. And we have to ask -- what has happened that all the leaders of Israel's security services suddenly think in the same way? Until they expressed their opinion in public they were brave and admired fighters -- and suddenly they are enemies of Israel, suddenly they don't care about Israel's security?" Clearly their criticisms have struck a chord.
In his comments on Friday, Diskin also slammed Netanyahu for lack of progress on the Palestinian front. "If we don't come to our senses soon, when [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas steps down in a year or two, we might be in a worse-off situation," he declared. "Netanyahu knows that if he makes a small gesture toward the Palestinians, his coalition will fall apart."
Diskin didn't know how prescient he would be, when things only got worse for Netanyahu later that day. Newly elected Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, head of the opposition, immediately jumped on the frenzy, calling on Friday for new elections. "Israel's citizens will be faced with a choice between more obtuseness, apathy, and extremism from this government and national interests and hope," Mofaz said, adding, "I call for the general elections to be held at the earliest possible opportunity, immediately following the holidays, on Tuesday, October 16." He urged Netanyahu to "begin explicit moves in order to reach an agreed-upon date for general elections."
The call, which was soon echoed by Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, was not surprising coming from the two leading opposition parties. But the real bombshell came later on Friday, when Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman, leader of the second-largest party in Netanyahu's ruling coalition, threatened to bolt the government over a pending compromise over requiring religious men to serve in the military. "Our obligation to the coalition is over. We have an obligation to voters as well, and once the coalition didn't follow us to a compromise, [we knew] we have decisions to make," Lieberman said on Israeli Channel 2's "Meet the Press," setting a May 9 deadline, which is when the new law is set to be voted on.
As if this weekend wasn't bad enough for Netanyahu, popular Israeli journalist Yair Lapid also officially registered a new political party on Sunday -- ending speculation that he'd join one of the other parties. "We have set up Yesh Atid [There is a Future] because the middle class, the creative and productive public that pays taxes and serves in the army, has no voice and no one to protect its interests," he said in a notification sent to activists and supporters. Lapid's focus on economic issues is sure to hit Netanyahu in another spot where he is particularly vulnerable, as seen by his frantic pandering to the protest leaders this weekend. (It's no coincidence that Diskin used loaded, class-warfare language in his critique of Netanyahu and Barak, calling them "messiahs from Akirov and Caesaerea," in reference to Israel's posh neighborhoods.)
A number of Israeli political strategists had told me over the past few months that Netanyahu was toying with calling for early elections in order to capitalize on his strength at the time. As the American economy was beginning to rebound and the U.S. Republican primary descended into ridiculousness, Netanyahu came around to the likelihood that he would have to deal with Obama for another term. Rather than have to brave the possibility of renewed pressure, the theory went, Netanyahu could push for elections before November and ride into Obama's second term with a reinforced mandate.