The Iranian-born Shaul Mofaz is thought to oppose unilateral military action but the former chief of staff is used to taking orders from Netanyahu and the deal has secured Ehud Barak's position
Does the overnight political earthquake in Israel, which led to Tuesday's announcement of a "national unity government", have implications for intentions regarding a possible military strike on Iran's nuclear programme?
At a press conference held by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his new deputy, Shaul Mofaz of the centrist Kadima party, which has been brought into the coalition, it was said the new unity government would hold "serious and responsible" talks on Iran. (It's slightly alarming, of course, to think that talks hitherto might not have been serious and responsible.)
The Iranian-born Mofaz is thought to oppose unilateral military action – a position very much at odds with that of his new boss. Netanyahu, along with defence minister Ehud Barak, is adamant that Israel reserves the right to act to stop the "existential threat" of a nuclear Iran.
As a former chief of staff, Mofaz's views inside the unofficial core group of ministers that takes key decisions – the Forum of Eight, now the Forum of Nine – will carry some weight. But, according to analyst Meir Javedanfar, he is unlikely to be a restraining factor on Netanyahu and Barak. "His influence will be limited. His hands will be tied because of the position of weakness from which he entered the coalition," he said.
According to Anshel Pfeffer, who writes a blog on Israel-Iran for Haaretz, the move has also "taken the most senior security figure in the opposition out of the opposition and into the government".
Mofaz served as military chief of staff under governments led by both Netanyahu and Barak. "He has a history of taking orders from Bibi [Netanyahu] and Barak," says Pfeffer. "I think he will be very much in line [on Iran]. It will be a triumvirate."
An analysis by IHS Jane's suggests that Mofaz's presence in the government will not alter the prospects of military action. "Whether a condition of the agreement between Kadima and Likud involves Mofaz assuming a position on Iran closer to Netanyahu remains to be seen, but there will be many observers who will view the reconstituted government as preparing the ground for an attack on Iran – a decision that some members of the government, including Netanyahu, think may need to be made in the second half of 2012," it said.
A side-effect of the cancellation of September's election and the reinstatement of the October 2013 election is to extend Barak's political life for another year and a half. As I wrote earlier in an analysis of Tuesday's developments, Barak was facing potential political elimination in four months. Now his position at Netanyahu's side is assured for the timeframe of a possible military strike.