Netanyahu’s Victory Likely to Further Strain Relations with U.S.

by Nicole Auger, Forecast International.

Flag of IsraelIt appears Benjamin Netanyahu will keep his post as Israel’s prime minister, claiming victory on March 18 following his littered campaign and back-pedaling last-minute appeals to right-wing voters.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party secured an election victory over its main rival, the center-left Zionist Union, winning 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset compared to the Zionist Union’s 24 seats. Prior to the election, exit polls had suggested that the Zionist Union’s leader, Isaac Herzog, was neck and neck with Netanyahu. However, just hours before polls opened on March 17, in an effort to draw votes from other right-wing-leaning parties, Netanyahu abandoned his commitment to negotiate a Palestinian state, saying that there will be no Palestinian state under his watch.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The United States was particularly taken aback by Netanyahu’s reversal of his previous stance, which he had adopted six years earlier and which has been a longtime U.S. policy position. Now looking forward, the big question will be, what does Netanyahu’s victory mean for U.S.-Israeli relations, which have already suffered greatly during Netanyahu’s six-year reign?

From defense to economics and everything in between, Israel and the U.S. have shared a close diplomatic partnership for decades. The U.S., besides being one of Israel’s closest allies, often considers Israel’s well-being before making policy decisions regarding the Middle East region. More recently, however, disagreements over the region’s major security issues in terms of priorities and response tactics have become more regular.

Most notable among these issues is Iran’s nuclear program. On November 24, 2013, Iran agreed to a preliminary deal to place limitations on its nuclear program in exchange for eased international sanctions.  The deal, between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K. and France – plus Germany), was followed by further talks and discussions, none of which have resulted in much progress.  Israel has publicly criticized the deal, accusing Iran of agreeing only to pocket billions in much-needed cash reserves while still trying to develop an atomic bomb under the radar. This led to a public statement by the U.S. that it will be limiting how much information on its nuclear negotiations with Iran it shares with Israel.

The Israeli military was to become the first foreign force to receive the U.S.-made V-22 Osprey aircraft

The Israeli military was to become the first foreign force to receive the U.S.-made V-22 Osprey aircraft ~ image US Navy

Another issue was Israel’s decision to back out of a Pentagon package of Bell/Boeing V-22 tiltrotors. Israeli media reported in November 2014 that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had decided to forgo the offer, with several outlets casting the decision as driven by ongoing tension between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over a range of issues pertaining to Israel’s policy on Palestinian peace talks and West Bank settlements. Meanwhile, an advisor to Ya’alon has said the decision was driven strictly by budgetary pressures, which include the operational costs of this past summer’s Operation Protective Edge offense.

Overall, Netanyahu’s reinstatement puts the nation at risk, as it is apparent that Israel has more to lose if tensions with the U.S. become more strained. Looking forward, although some head-butting between the two can be expected over the next couple of months, it is unlikely that U.S. support for Israel, including the annual $3.1 billion in military aid, will cease altogether.