War With Iran? Netanyahu Victory Raises Risk Of Confrontation


Elections in Israel have ended, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has successfully kept his office, even if so by a slim majority. Israel is now split roughly down the middle of the political spectrum, indicating that until the next round of elections, Israel’s domestic and international politics are going to get even more polarized to the right. Since the outcome puts Netanyahu in a weaker domestic position, he will seek to compensate with a stronger foreign policy line vis-à-vis Iran, which in turn is a dangerous flirt with large-scale war.

The Knesset seats are split 60-60 between the left and the right, and as the leader of the largest faction — Likud — Netanyahu will receive a mandate with a six-week deadline from Shimon Peres by the end of the month to form a government. He will also have to contend with the runaway political success of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid centre-left movement, which gained 19 seats to make it the second power in the Knesset.

There are two choices in front of Netanyahu: the first is an uneasy coalition between his party and Yesh Atid, not unlike the coalition between the Tories and Labour in the United Kingdom. His second choice is to form a de facto majority government with the ubiquitous support of small, volatile elements near the centre, which can go left or right in exchange for political dividends, like a ministerial post. The second of those options would effectively place Yesh Atid as the official opposition. In the least likely option, should Netanyahu fail to form a government at the end of six weeks, Yesh Atid will receive the mandate to do so.

The above projections show that in all likelihood, Netanyahu will seek to form a de facto majority right-wing government with an assertive foreign policy to give it additional influence over the re-energized opposition.

In the way of foreign policy, this government would continue the settlement expansion, to global chagrin, and Netanyahu is going to intensify the rhetoric against Iran, opposite to all that is rational and logical. This policy line works against Israel’s interests, because the Jewish state is under unprecedented isolation from its traditional neighbours in the Middle East, has a lukewarm relationship with the current U.S. administration, and has received condemnation from the EU for the settlement policies that work against a Palestinian state. An attack against Iran, in a twisted calculus, would be Israel’s ticket back into the political mainstream.

These are perhaps the thoughts going through Netanyahu’s mind, seeing that the country he leads is falling deeper out of favor with the world.  

In a setting where Islamic regimes are quickly taking hold, the sanctions against Iran are having no effect other than the accelerated militarization of the Persian state, and the bogged situation in Syria has only allowed Iran’s allies to test tactics and weapons in real-world conditions at the price of tens of thousands of lives, Israel could be the one unpredictable factor to tip the entire region into an all-out war.

Israel cannot rely on old myths that it would ever survive such a turn of events. A unified Arab front against Israel would be a war of attrition, and if history is an indication, Israel’s military engagements have been preliminary and short in duration. It is not designed for prolonged warfare. A fundamental reliance on U.S. foreign aid to maintain a high degree of militarization and near-complete dependence on energy imports  to sustain that military machine mean that Israel is at a strategic disadvantage relative to its potential opponents, which can only have a long-term military outcome of defeat. In such a scenario, Israel’s political isolation and demise are certain.

Conversely, Iran would only profit from an Israeli strike, because it would provide a strong dose of domestic support and legitimacy for the Islamic regime and significantly bolster Iran’s regional profile overnight. Whatever we say about the Shia/Sunni divide, Iran still has more friends in the region than Israel does. The fact Iran has also made significant investments into bolstering its defensive and long-range capacities, founded on a doctrine of asymmetric warfare, means that it will also be a very tough military opponent.

The point is simple: if Netanyahu’s foreign policy materializes, the outcome is a war of attrition that Israel will lose. For this reason, its national interest must be expressed through peace and diplomacy, not pre-emptive strikes, and whatever new government takes power, it has little choice in that matter.