That was how you open a session of parliament in a civilized country. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented a pitch-black picture about Iran's intentions to attack Israel, but he also cast a ray of light about Israel's scientific and economic achievements. As if he was a student of David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu highlighted the upcoming move of Israel Defense Forces intelligence and cyber bases from the center of the country to the Negev Desert.
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich, on the other hand, questioned the dark picture of Iran, although she agreed that Israel needs to act vigorously over that country. Yachimovich painted a sad picture of Israeli society. Whether on cyber bases, layoffs or differences that need to be hashed out in the Knesset, the disagreements mostly had a matter-of-fact tone.
The prime minister has no choice but to present the Iran issue with extreme severity. This is the only chance to prevent Western nations, which are opening negotiations today with the Iranian regime, from falling into the ayatollah's trap and phasing out economic sanctions.
Netanyahu will not get everything he wants over the halt of uranium enrichment, but to keep Iran two or three years away from producing a nuclear bomb, he must demand the full dismantlement of Iran's nuclear enterprise. An understanding of the severity of the problem should have led Yachimovich to accept Netanyahu's grim assessment.
The situation is different when it comes to the negotiations with the Palestinians. Yachimovich asked a series of very reasonable questions about the talks. Why have negotiators only held eight meetings in three months? What is the backup plan if the talks fail? And has the government been talking with settlers about what a peace deal would mean for them? Even if the government believes that effective negotiating requires holding one's cards close to one's chest, the opposition has the duty to ask questions and it would be reasonable for Netanyahu to give detailed answers to some of them at this point.
Naturally, the prime minister and opposition leader presented starkly contrasting views on fundamental issues like war, peace and the economy. But it is actually the opposition which is providing Netanyahu a safety net on diplomatic issues, to protect him from opponents within his own coalition. But the winter Knesset session will be characterized not only by the issues mentioned on Monday, but also by other divisive matters.
These matters are particularly tough. An emphasis of "Jewish" over "democratic" in legislating the nature of the state will encounter difficulties from within the coalition. The sustainable governance bill will require compromises -- for example, a electoral threshold of 3 percent, instead of the 4% the bill currently seeks. Pressure from rightists within Habayit Hayehudi to apply certain laws to Judea and Samaria will increase internal tension within the government. And most of all, the commitment to Yaakov Peri's formula for equalizing the burden of military service could rupture Yesh Atid's relationship with Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon.
This will be a stormy Knesset session, with strong winds blowing in from the outside. On one side, there will be social difficulties, like the layoffs at Teva and oil refineries. On the other, Avigdor Lieberman's and Ehud Olmert's legal cases are nearing a conclusion, as is the investigation over Gabi Ashkenazi and Boaz Harpaz. Things will not be boring.