Whatever you may think of Binyamin Netanyahu, and very few people are neutral on the subject, there is no denying that though often abrasive and irritating, he has put the Iranian nuclear program high on the international agenda.

Without his stubborn nudging it is fair to assume the intensity of international pressure on the Islamic Republic would be far weaker than it is today.

While Netanyahu generated the motivation, he was incapable of mobilizing the needed pressure. That job fell to Barack Obama. While the two agreed Iran should not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, they often disagreed on how to achieve that goal.

But Netanyahu’s relentless focus on Iran may be as much about deflecting attention from an Israeli-Palestinian peace process he badly wants to postpone indefinitely as fears an Iranian bomb could threaten Israel’s existence.

Netanyahu’s brinkmanship and meddling in the American elections won him no friends in the White House, where the mistrust between the two leaders obscured the fact that more unites than divides them on this issue. Obama’s critics question his commitment but much of that is politically motivated. For better or worse, the president has firmly committed himself, publicly and privately, to do “whatever it takes” to prevent Iran from acquiring a bomb and he insists that containment is not acceptable.

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has compiled a long list of “Obama’s crystal clear promises” that should satisfy all but the hardcore Obama haters.

The fear that Netanyahu would willingly go to war to stop, or even slow down the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons – the Iranians deny they’re working on a bomb, but few believe them – has galvanized world attention.

Netanyahu’s Wyle E. Coyote cartoon bomb may have been a juvenile publicity stunt, but it dominated global news coverage of the annual UN General Assembly meeting. He used that platform to reveal he would not launch a unilateral attack before the American election and would give the sanctions until mid-2013 to produce results.

Netanyahu’s ratcheting up the issue in recent months was widely seen as a transparent attempt to influence the American presidential election in light of his reputation as a serial meddler in US politics. But as his preferred candidate, Mitt Romney, began lagging farther and farther behind, and President Obama, who doesn’t care much for Netanyahu (the feeling is mutual), began gaining, the prime minister decided to make some shalom before the election – just in case.

He is reportedly planning to call new elections in Israel for early next year and his chance of reelection look pretty good right now. Netanyahu knows two things: a prime minister with a reputation for being unable to work well with Israel’s most important ally does not sit well with Israeli voters, and Obama is very likely to be around for another four years.

There can be little doubt the Iranian nuclear program is a potential existential threat to Israel and Netanyahu has succeeded in focusing world attention on it, but does he have another purpose in that fight as well? Netanyahu has frequently said the Iranian nuclear threat is so overriding that peace with the Palestinians will not really be possible until it is solved. He argues that Iran plays such a significant role in anti-Israel terrorism through its Hamas and Hezbollah allies and others, that any peaceful resolution of Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not achievable at this time.

He has some unwitting allies.

The Iranian leadership, particularly its president, supreme leader and military chiefs, keep reminding the world of their desire to see “the cancerous tumor” that is the Jewish state “wiped off the map.” They regularly announce new weapons that can strike any target in “the Zionist regime,” sink American aircraft carriers and close the Strait of Hormuz. This weekend the Israel Air Force shot down what it believes to be an Iranian/Hezbollah drone, possibly seeking to gather intelligence about Israel’s Dimona nuclear facilities.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN shortly before Netanyahu and accused Israel of ethnic cleansing, war crimes and trying to “Judaize” Jerusalem, which he called Palestine’s “eternal capital,” while denying any Jewish connection to the Holy City and the Temple Mount.

Abbas refuses to resume negotiations without a total freeze on Israeli construction beyond the 1967 border, including in east Jerusalem, something Netanyahu is unwilling and politically unable to deliver. Instead the Palestinian leader is trying to bypass the negotiating table by going directly to the UN for unilateral recognition.

With Israeli elections expected early next year, the riskaverse Netanyahu, who never had much enthusiasm for the peace process to begin with, is unlikely to do anything to offend his base among nationalists, settlers and the ultra-religious.

Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians showed much more than rhetorical interest in negotiating a real peace, but neither wanted to be blamed for its demise, so they focused on finger-pointing excuses.

The Palestinians had their demand for a freeze, and Netanyahu kept expanding settlement construction even as he was saying he was ready for unconditional talks.

The Netanyahu government also points to the Fatah- Hamas rivalry and asks how the Palestinians could make peace with Israel when they can’t even make peace with each other.

Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support for terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state are seen by prime minister Netanyahu as intertwined and the reason Israeli- Palestinian peace is not possible until the Islamic Republic totally halts is nuclear program. That may be merely a convenient excuse to stay away from the peace table, but the Iranians, their allies and the Palestinians are his best argument.

©2012 DouglasMBloomfield bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com

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