How will a Netanyahu-led Israeli gov't impact Iran policy? - analysis

All of Netanyahu’s actual record for using force suggests that he is no more likely to actually pull the trigger for a preemptive strike against Tehran than Bennett-Lapid were.

 Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is seen speaking at the Givat Harel outpost in the West Bank just days before the elections, on October 26, 2022. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is seen speaking at the Givat Harel outpost in the West Bank just days before the elections, on October 26, 2022.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

As Benjamin Netanyahu looks ready to retake the premiership in the near future, attention will quickly return to the Iran issue and how he might handle it differently than the Naftali Bennett-Yair Lapid governments dating back to July 2021.

Will he be more likely to launch a preemptive strike against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program?

And will he return the Jewish state to loud public disagreements with the Biden administration over Iran policy?

Stepping back for a minute, there is a lot in common between the views of the past and expected future Netanyahu government (there are no signs that his policy views have changed) and the Bennett-Lapid administration on Tehran.

Both governments undertook risky Mossad operations to set back the ayatollahs’ nuclear program.

Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. (credit: LISI NIESNER/ REUTERS)Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. (credit: LISI NIESNER/ REUTERS)

Also, both governments opposed the US desire to return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Further, both governments wanted to maintain global economic sanctions against Iran, only being ready to accept a deal which significantly strengthened and lengthened the 2015 deal to include additional problematic aspects of the Islamic Republic’s behavior.

But there were some big differences as well.

Netanyahu in the past went out of his way to publicly accost the Biden administration (and the Obama administration before it) for going too easy on Tehran.

It was not enough for him to transmit his objections to Biden-Obama policies in private, he spoke against Iran nuclear deals before Congress, in the media and at just about any and every public opportunity he got.

According to Netanyahu, this was important to win the hearts and minds of Americans to turn the country against any conciliatory policy with the ayatollahs.

Bennett-Lapid made some speeches against Biden for wanting to return to the nuclear deal without sufficient concessions from Iran, but went out of their way not to do this in the US in Biden’s face.

They tried to keep their criticism either private or for Israeli audiences.

Everyone knew where they stood on the Iran issue, but they did not try to influence the American public or get involved in the American domestic politics of the issue.

Expectations are that Netanyahu will turn the clock back to his more public criticism as this reflects his philosophy of how to influence American policy long-term.

However, Bennett-Lapid had some clear successes in getting the US to back off from removing the IRGC from the terror list. This and some other points could be chalked up to their quiet diplomacy tactics.

In other words, possibly top US officials listened to their advice and intelligence analysis on Iran more because they felt they were getting solely objective information without political overtones.

Is it possible that Netanyahu will entertain trying out some of the more quiet diplomacy tactics now that it has been demonstrated to have some impact?

It may be that Netanyahu may give quiet diplomacy a try in the near future, given that Iran deal negotiations are currently indefinitely on pause.

Yet, should Biden at some point return to pursuing getting back into the deal more aggressively, Netanyahu’s gloves will likely come off as in the past.

Whether the Netanyahu or Bennett-Lapid tactic is more effective in influencing US policy, and which helps Israel’s image long-term in the US, is in the eye of the beholder.

But this is an area where the election results will likely have a real impact in changing policy with Iran and the US.

A preemptive strike is much harder to judge.

Netanyahu has said that he might have ordered a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program during the 2010-2012 period if Israel’s defense establishment chiefs had not opposed him.

He certainly likes to present himself as the most aggressive of Israel’s leaders on the subject of Tehran.

However, Bennett-Lapid spoke loudly about a potential strike and gave larger budgets to the IDF than Netanyahu to have the capabilities for a strike be more ready.

Famously, Bennett-Lapid tried to undermine Netanyahu’s security credentials, saying he was neglectful of funding the IDF’s needs to being ready for a strike on the Islamic Republic.

At the same time, Bennett-Lapid let Iran cross a variety of thresholds - from enriching uranium up to the 60% level in large quantities to ordering shutting down dozens of IAEA nuclear inspector cameras – without attacking. This seems to show that they would not have attacked Tehran absent some sort of later event – such as a clear intelligence finding that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had made a decision to break out toward nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu has historically showed restraint when it came to using broad shows of force in conflicts with Gaza.

All of Netanyahu’s actual record for using force suggests that he is no more likely to actually pull the trigger for a preemptive strike against Tehran than Bennett-Lapid were.

In that sense, any change in policy about using force is likely to be far more about style than actual results.

The last piece of policy with Iran is continuing to combat its attempts to develop a new presence in Syria.

On that issue, Bennett-Lapid continued Netanyahu’s “war between wars” policy of striking any strategic new Iranian weapons being smuggled into Syria, so no change is expected.