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Netanyahu emerges as strongman with unity deal
Israel politics » Partnership with the Kadima party offers the leader more freedom to maneuver.

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Israel, like much of the West, believes that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon — a charge Iran denies.

Netanyahu considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be a lethal threat to Israel’s very existence, and has repeatedly hinted that he is prepared to authorize an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations if he believes that international diplomacy and economic sanctions are failing.

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Last month, Mofaz criticized Netanyahu’s tough rhetoric and said it was actually weakening Israel. He described the Iranian nuclear program as a global threat and said Israel should coordinate any attack with the U.S. Mofaz’s influence could reduce the chances of a unilateral Israeli strike, at least in the short term.

Netanyahu said he has consulted with Mofaz on Iran for several years. He said the talks were "very serious" and would continue to be "serious and responsible."

Analysts said the alliance between Mofaz and Netanyahu could form a potent combination on Iran, with Mofaz adding a needed dose of public legitimacy.

Reuven Pedatzur, a commentator on military affairs, said Netanyahu can do "whatever he wants" because there is no real opposition. "He just has to convince Mofaz to agree with him," he said.

Kadima had resisted joining the government when former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was at the party’s helm, because she did not think Netanyahu was serious about reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians. But that hurdle was cleared when Mofaz ousted Livni in Kadima’s leadership vote last month. Netanyahu said talks with Kadima had gone on for several days but was not more specific.

Mofaz told the news conference that it had been a "mistake" to sit in the opposition.

While Netanyahu, who has surged in opinion polls, approached the negotiations from a position of strength, Mofaz is in a struggle for survival.

Surveys have predicted Kadima would drop to about a dozen seats in parliament if elections were held, from its current 28.

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The new deal gives Mofaz a year and a half to rehabilitate his party, or possibly merge with Likud. Kadima broke away from Likud in 2005, and many members, including Mofaz, have their political roots in Likud.

Shelly Yachimovich, head of the opposition Labor Party, said she was furious over the last-minute reversal, expressing anger particularly at Mofaz, who was recently quoted as calling Netanyahu a "liar," yet found himself awkwardly sharing the stage with the prime minister on Tuesday as his deputy.

"I feel revulsion, loathing ... and a sensation that a line has been crossed," she said. Yachimovich is likely to emerge as parliament’s new opposition leader.

The news also sidelines political newcomer Yair Lapid, a popular former TV anchorman who has been faring well in opinion polls. Lapid must now wait until the next election to enter parliament.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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