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As 'civil war' warnings ring in his ears, Netanyahu insists that the main issue is Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an AIPAC conference in Washington, US on 6 March 2018 [Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an AIPAC conference in Washington, US on 6 March 2018 [Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) sent its President Betsy Korn, CEO Howard Kohr and Israel Director Cameron Brown to the occupation state on 17 January. AIPAC advocates pro-Israel policies and lobbies the legislative and executive branches of the United States government. According to the group's website, it is a bipartisan American organisation that advocates for a strong US-Israel relationship. "The mission of AIPAC is to encourage and persuade the US government to enact specific policies that create a strong, enduring and mutually beneficial relationship with our ally Israel." AIPAC's political action committee (PAC) is self-described as "the largest pro-Israel political action committee in the country — supporting 365 candidates in 2022 with more than $17 million in direct support through AIPAC." The AIPAC PAC "stands with those in Congress who stand with Israel."

According to Benjamin Netanyahu's office, the Prime Minister emphasised to the delegation that the main struggle has been – and remains – with Iran. "He thanked the senior AIPAC officials for their contribution to strengthening the bond between the US and Israel." What was new about the AIPAC visit if, as Netanyahu claims, it focused on Iran as the main struggle?

The visit took place amidst what former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has called a "judicial coup" by Netanyahu and his ministers, while 100,000 Israelis led by Benny Gantz, the former minister of defence, were demonstrating against the most extreme far-right government in Israeli history of Israel and many senior officials are warning of civil war. Moreover, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish party leader Aryeh Deri, who was forced out of government by the Supreme Court, has caused more tension in the government and on the ground.

It would be insane to think that the AIPAC officials ignored what is happening in Israel and only discussed Iran. The delegation must have expressed their displeasure at what is happening and even their fear of the deep schism which could see Israel losing American support. This could be why Netanyahu repeated his Iran mantra in an attempt to deny Israel's domestic problems which quite possibly pushed AIPAC to send its most senior officials to the occupation state. He needed to divert their attention.

READ: Netanyahu's claim of Jewish exclusivity in Palestine must be challenged

A day after AIPAC's visit, a bipartisan delegation from the US Congress led by the Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen and the Republican Senator James Lankford also visited Israel. They were accompanied by Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand, Michael Bennet and Mark Kelly, as well as Republicans Dan Sullivan and Ted Budd. The delegation asked not to meet with far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir or any members of their hard-line factions. "The fact that the request not to meet with Smotrich and Ben-Gvir came from Rosen, who is seen as one of the Democratic caucus's most pro-Israel members," said the Times of Israel, "also demonstrates how widespread the unease in Washington is, particularly within Biden's party."

Another important visitor arrived a day later, when US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan turned up in Israel. He met Netanyahu accompanied by Deputy Assistant to President Joe Biden and National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk, and US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides.

Ben-Gvir is seeking a prominent spot within Netanyahu's next coalition - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Ben-Gvir is seeking a prominent spot within Netanyahu's next coalition – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

The Americans are worried that Smotrich and Ben-Gvir are working systematically to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority, which is suffering from a chronic financial problem, by deducting millions of US dollars from customs money collected on the PA's behalf by Israel. They are also withdrawing VIP cards from Palestinian officials, limiting their ability to pass through the hundreds of Israeli military checkpoints found all over the occupied West Bank. The collapse of the PA could be imminent. To justify these actions, Netanyahu blames the PA's legal action at the International Criminal Court. "The latest Palestinian moves in the international arena are an attack on Israel and oblige us to respond," he insisted.

More importantly, Netanyahu and his far-right cronies are also working on eliminating the only US-backed solution to the conflict with the Palestinians: the two-state-solution. The Americans are very keen on keeping this option alive, even if is already dead in all but name, after consecutive Israeli governments have taken most of the land on which the Palestinians are supposed to build their long-promised independent state. If Netanyahu succeeds, the US will lose its role as a broker for peace and make it extremely difficult for more Arab states to join the so-called Abraham Accords and normalise relations with Israel. Netanyahu's office, though, still claims that the AIPAC and other visits were intended to "stop the Iranian nuclear programme and Iran's actions in the region."

America's fears are certainly justified. What's more, it has many others to fear apart from Iran, not least Netanyahu. Simon Tisdall of the Guardian was right to say: "Netanyahu is Israel's own worst enemy. Why won't western allies confront him?" For all his bluff and bluster, Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who has been claiming that he is the only person capable of prolonging Israel's life beyond its first 100 years, is the one who will, more than most, be responsible for its downfall. And yet the occupation state's "allies" are still not ready to confront him. What hold does he have over them? Perhaps last year's "365 candidates" in the US Congress who benefited from "more than $17 million in direct support through AIPAC" would care to let us know.

READ: Ben Gvir's efforts in the erasure of Palestinian identity

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

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