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In Israel, the wounded Netanyahu could pose a risk to Biden



When the best American diplomat came to Israel late last month, one meeting was more discreet than any other.

No journalists and only a handful of aides were invited to watch Secretary of State Anthony J.’s meeting. Blinken with a centrist Israeli politician named Yair Lapid on the night of May 25 at a hotel in Jerusalem. This was a delicate moment in Israel’s political history, as Lapid worked to form a future new government to exclude Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Just eight days later, Lapid will formally urge Israel to assemble a coalition of Nethayahu̵

7;s rivals across the political spectrum in a bid to oust the country’s longest-serving prime minister on corruption charges.

The Biden administration says it will work with any Israeli government to maintain the “iron” connection that Washington has long had with Israel. But many US officials would hardly regret seeing Netanyahu leave after his extremely friendly alliance with former President Trump pushed Israel closer to the CSO camp, complicating what has always been a bilateral political relationship.

However, Netanyahu is not quiet, making less subtle blows to President Biden that could worsen relations, especially as Washington seeks to revive a landmark nuclear deal with Israel’s sworn enemy, Iran.

With the prospect of keeping his job dwindling by the hour, the Israeli leader told senior members of the Israeli security agency this week that he would readily oppose the US administration defending Israel.

Speaking at a ceremony Tuesday for the new head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, Netanyahu said that if a move against Iran was deemed necessary to protect Israelis, it would decisively overcome any concerns about “friction” with the United States.

Israel, the prime minister added, will do “everything – I mean everything” – to ensure that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons.

As the coalition opposing Netanyahu took shape, with right-wing religious nationalist Naftali Bennett announcing he would join forces with Lapid, the Israeli leader raised his eyebrows further, appearing to portray Washington as a less credible ally.

Following Bennett’s statement, Netanyahu gave an angry speech that almost looked like a comparison between the United States and two of Israel’s fiercest enemies, Iran and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

“If, God forbid, it is formed, how will we look at our enemies?” The defeated Netanyahu said of the emerging new government. “What will they say in Iran?” What will they say in Gaza? What will they say in the halls of Washington? ”

The recent fighting between Israelis and Palestinian militants had already put Biden in a difficult position with the progressive wing of his own Democratic Party, with some lawmakers calling on the president to lean much harder on Netanyahu to agree to a ceasefire.

If Bennett takes office as prime minister, his previous inflammatory remarks, including praise for killing Arabs during his military service, are likely to receive even more negative social media attention than supporters of the Palestinian cause. This will make it politically more expensive for Biden to express unconditional support for Israel’s right to self-defense.

And there are figures from Biden’s inner political right who also seem determined to stir the pot. In recent days, Netanyahu has welcomed two unwavering allies of Trump – Republican Sensor Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas. Cruz used his visit as a forum to attack Biden’s weakness for Hamas.

There is little reason to think that close US-Israel relations will change significantly, regardless of whether Netanyahu loses his perch in the coming days – just as his general parameters remained in place when Trump left office after four years of tight embrace. the right-wing Israeli leader, often at the expense of Palestinian interests.

“We will work with any Israeli government forward, as in the past,” Blinken told CNN en Español during a sweep through Central America last week.

Even so, an interlude during which the wounded Netanyahu struggles to retain power could prove dangerous, analysts say. The national crisis, whatever its form, could thwart the coalition’s efforts to bring down Netanyahu, a colossus on the country’s political scene for a generation.

“Extraordinary political events will generate hectic days next week,” Amos Harel, a defense expert, wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Friday. “It is impossible to ignore the security threats, both externally and internally, that have been looming for as long as [new] the government has not taken the oath. “

The possible installation of a new, tough Israeli leader – Bennett is a booster of Jewish settlements and a supporter of annexing pieces from the West Bank – could also complicate Washington.

But Bennett, who will take the first step in rotating the prime minister’s work with Lapid, will be accountable to the diverse coalition that supports him, instead of leading a right-wing parliamentary bloc. For that reason, analysts say, he is unlikely to try to push a firmly right-wing agenda toward the Palestinians, instead focusing on health and economic issues.

Following Iran’s bombing of Netanyahu on Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Ganz, who joined forces with the new coalition, quickly jumped to stress that the United States is Israel’s closest ally. Until Thursday, Ganz was in Washington on a pre-planned visit, praising Biden and American friendship with Israel.

The parliamentary vote, which could lead to the removal of Netanyahu, is likely in a week or more. But as many commentators point out, a week is an eternity in Israeli politics.

“An hour in this country can change a lot,” said Jonathan Freeman, a professor of politics at the Hebrew University.

There is a precedent in Israel for a shooting war that takes domestic political disputes aside. Short but fierce hostilities between Israel and Hamas last month, an 11-day battle that killed more than 250 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 12 Israeli people, have temporarily halted rivals’ efforts to form an anti-Netanyahu coalition.

Bennett returned to the negotiating table with Lapid only after the ceasefire with Hamas on May 21, leaving a window for less than two weeks to make a complex eight-party effort to jointly challenge Netanyahu.

By the time Blinken came to Jerusalem, coalition-building efforts had the potential to pose a real threat to the prime minister. Lapid shared a photo from his brief meeting with the US Secretary of State on social media.

Israeli commentators interpreted the talks as a sign that the Biden administration recognizes the possibility of a change of leadership. But even after Lapid officially informed President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday that he had secured the support of a parliamentary majority, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the administration would not comment on any future Israeli government before it was opened.

When Biden took office, he wasted no time in announcing that he aimed to revive the Obama-era Iranian nuclear pact that Trump had torpedoed. In the following months, Netanyahu took action that would make it difficult to restart these talks. Israel has widely hinted that it carried out a large-scale cyber attack on Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility in April – when US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III was visiting Tel Aviv.

Gantz, in Washington on Thursday, appears to have blamed Netanyahu’s public appearances for the picket between US-Israeli differences over Iran.

“We will continue this important strategic dialogue in a private discussion,” he said. “And only in this way, not in the media, in a provocative way.”

King reports from Tel Aviv, and Wilkinson from Washington and Jerusalem.




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