Israel Enters Divisive, Uncharted Waters With New PM

June 15, 2021

On Monday, Naftali Bennett was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Israel -- ending 12 years of Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership as the longest serving and most accomplished Prime Minister in Israel's history. This turning point has been far from picture-perfect; it remains controversial and even worrisome to many Israelis. But after four separate elections in which Netanyahu was unable to form a large enough coalition to continue his leadership, a new alliance was finally formed. And it is comprised of politicians from a broad -- and unlikely -- spectrum of political positions and parties. Indeed, the strange bedfellows it encompasses have led to serious concern about its potential stability.

Can Bennett, an inexperienced and untested leader, steer Israel through the roiling, dangerous circumstances surrounding Israel? These conditions are continuously stirred up by Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and their proxies Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad.

Only slightly less worrisome is the role President Joe Biden's administration intends to play in the Middle East and with Israel. Many of Biden's appointees have, in their not-so-distant past, been notoriously anti-Israel activists.

Monday night, Chris Mitchell, Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the Christian Broadcasting Network, was interviewed from Jerusalem on FRC's "Washington Watch." When asked about Naftali Bennett's background, he explained, "Naftali Bennett is a religious man. He's probably the first religious leader of Israel -- some people have said, since Temple Times. He's an observant Jew. He's served in Israel's elite Special Forces. He was also an entrepreneur who made millions in a start-up. And now he's the new prime minister."

Mitchell pointed out that Naftali Bennett's Yamina party only has about six seats in the 120-seat Knesset. And yet, because of political machinations over the last couple of years, he's now the prime minister. How long he will last in that role remains an open question. The 61-seat coalition he represents is very diverse, and if any one of the eight parties that comprise it chooses to leave, the government will fall and Israel will face yet another election.

Of course, the big question is what brought this diverse group together in the first place? It's abundantly clear that they have been united simply by a desire to oust Prime Minister Netanyahu. Two of the most conservative members, Bennett and Gideon Saar, were once his former allies, who turned against him for personal and political reasons. And the rest of the coalition includes several on the left side of the Israeli political spectrum and, shockingly, even an Arab Islamist party. Overall, those parties' determination to remove Netanyahu has succeeded. But how long they will retain cohesion in the Knesset is quite another question.

Speaking at the Knesset after the installation of the new government, Netanyahu promised to unseat what he called "a dangerous government." Chris Mitchell remarked, "He vowed that he will be back as leader of the opposition. It was kind of jarring that after 12 years, he's no longer Prime Minister. But he's going to fight it. He's going to do what he can to unseat Bennett and his coalition."

Those of us who are closely attuned to Israel are well aware of its many strategic challenges, and are deeply concerned about the Biden administration's ongoing attempts to renew the Iranian nuclear deal -- the JCPOA. Netanyahu has fought Iran's aggression by every possible means. Like him, some fear that Bennett is not strong enough to firmly and successfully oppose Biden's Obama-like intentions.

As Chris Mitchell explained, "You see two things happening right now. First of all, you see what's taking place in Vienna, with indirect negotiations between the U.S. and Iran and the possible lifting of sanctions against the Islamic Republic. And then you see Iran moving quickly toward a nuclear weapon and getting very, very close to that. So you have these two dynamics going on. What will Israel do in the meantime? Will it make a preemptive strike? Will it continue to do what it can to sabotage Iran's nuclear program? This is probably going to be the biggest question in the Middle East in the weeks and months to come."

And as for Israel, Mitchell concluded, "There's a very, very divisive atmosphere here in Israel right now. There's really a need for a lot of healing and reconciliation. Some people think the new government is a miracle and great for Israel. Others are very concerned about the way it could undermine Israel's security, both internally and throughout the region."

As is so often the case with those who love Israel, we can only watch and pray. And yes, more than ever we should as we are told in Psalm 122:6, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." Surely it is our calling as believers to do so -- and most certainly for such a time as this.