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The conflict of electoral interest between Netanyahu and Trump

September 11, 2019 at 3:48 pm

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu (L) speaks during US President Donald Trump’s (R) visit to Israel on 23 May 2017 [Israeli Government Press Office/Haim Zach/Handout]

No one could have missed the fact that Israel has escalated its military operations against targets associated with Iran in recent weeks and has expanded the scope of these operations to include Lebanese and Iraqi territories, having been limited mainly to Syria over the past few years. Moreover, no one will have missed the fact that this escalation and expansion are tied closely to the upcoming General Election in Israel, which was imposed by the failure to form a government coalition following the election in April.

The fact of the matter is that incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is desperate to secure a decisive victory this time round, as it involves his political as well as his personal future. He faces corruption charges and he and his political allies are betting on a political majority in the Knesset that would grant him immunity from prosecution.

Naturally, although he is associated with a political legacy that has historically formed the fascist wing of the Zionist movement, Netanyahu has no option but to engage in an electoral battle within the limits of the basic rules of democracy, as he does not have the popular majority allowing him to challenge or change them. Instead, he has to resort to dirty tricks to secure a General Election victory, including open racism against Palestinian Arabs holding Israeli citizenship.

READ: Netanyahu seeks Trump go-ahead for Israel’s West Bank annexation to help win election

We can also see him escalating his rhetoric against the government in Tehran and using his political powers to confront Iran. In this way, he is hoping to convince the Israeli electorate that he is determined to see this confrontation through to the end. Netanyahu is taking advantage of the obsession with Iran within Israel, it being the only regional state to express publically its hostility towards Israel, while also seeking to obtain nuclear power. In this, though, the Israeli leader is no different to his major election opponents, who are all hawks, not doves. It is clear that any dovish camp in Israel has weakened and wasted away over the decades.

Since the G7 summit in France last month, Netanyahu has been concerned that his friend Donald Trump may be about to stab him in the back over Iran, with the US President looking to hold direct negotiations with Tehran, which is what his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron wants him to do. Macron’s effort resulted in Trump being at ease about the invitation for the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, to go to the summit venue, an invitation which was made openly, if not publically.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Moscow, Russia on 2 September 2019 [Dmitri Chirciu/Anadolu Agency]

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Moscow, Russia on 2 September 2019 [Dmitri Chirciu/Anadolu Agency]

No one would be surprised if Trump listened to Macron’s proposal except, perhaps, those who have forgotten that he is the same man who threatened to annihilate North Korea before “falling in love” with its dreadful leader. Trump has no other principles to act upon other than his narcissistic interests; these are now focused on winning a second term in the US Presidential election scheduled for autumn next year. He knows that his administration’s hostile position towards Iran did not win him any popularity, even among American Jews, the majority of whom still support the Democratic Party and oppose Netanyahu’s policy.

READ: Trump is the ‘King of Israel’

With the “love” between Trump and Kim Jong-un remaining unfulfilled, the US leader is looking for a replacement peaceful achievement to compensate for his failure with North Korea. He has portrayed himself as a peacemaker, and on more than one occasion even expressed his desire to win the Nobel Peace Prize like his predecessor; Trump is obsessed with outdoing Barack Obama.

After it became clear that the “deal of the century” for the Israelis and Palestinians is likely to be stillborn, and after the North Korean endeavour hit a dead end, the US President looked in the Afghan dossier, and was interested to hear Macron’s proposal regarding Iran. The latter became the favoured option after the operation carried out by Taliban in Kabul recently forced Trump to call off direct negotiations and cancel their invitation to Camp David, a move which had been shrouded in secrecy and surprised his Republican allies.

Hence, the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is real, and is perhaps more dependent on Iran’s agreement to such a meeting than Washington’s willingness for it to go ahead. Needless to say, if it does take place, it could be a major blow to Netanyahu, who boasts that his close friendship with Trump makes him more capable than his electoral opponents of guaranteeing that the White House adopts the right-wing Zionist agenda and makes hostility towards Iran a priority.

READ: The whole world is a threat to Israel’s security

Fortunately for Netanyahu, the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York, which is the first possible opportunity for a meeting between Trump and Rouhani, will begin next Tuesday, 17 September, the same day as the Israeli General Election. This means that if the meeting between Trump and Rouhani does take place, it will happen after the polls close in Israel. We can speculate, therefore, that Netanyahu has appealed to Trump not to announce that a meeting with Rouhani is going ahead at the UN — if it is going ahead — before the Israeli leader’s date with destiny at the ballot box. Even that might not be enough though, especially if Netanyahu has to convince other parties to join a coalition to form the next government. For once, it seems that there is a real conflict of electoral interest between the Israeli Prime Minister and the US President.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 10 September 2019

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.