THE BLOG
11/15/2013 02:48 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Iran and Domestic Israeli and American Politics

The Iranian nuclear program has not as yet produced any military confrontation, and hopefully will not also in the future, but It did ignite a war of words between the two allies, Israel and the US. The two have no joint diplomatic strategy for how to deal with the Iranians, and in the absence of diplomacy, it is the politics which run supreme -- domestic politics which affect foreign policy.

A few days ago, the Israeli minister of housing, Uri Ariel, the no. 2 in the right-wing Jewish Home party announced plans to build 20,000 new housing units around Jerusalem. Coming as it were in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian talks and the Iranian nuclear talks, it was immediately surmised by Israeli pundits and politicians as well as American officials that it was a typical obstructionist ploy by a right wing opponent of Netanyahu, but those who raised this option gave too much credit to the minister. It was rather typical Israeli stupidity where an announcement was made without any regard to diplomatic and PR implications, the type of stuff that has become a trademark of the Netanyahu government.

The PM himself immediately dismissed the plan and rebuked the minister. Well, on the surface one of those folkloristic expressions of Israeli politics. But not this time. The full reaction of Netanyahu to this incident was of great significance. The PM told the minister that his rash announcement caused damage to Israel, not because of its impact on the stalled talks with the Palestinians, but because it caused damage with regard to the Iranian nuclear talks. This was another indication of the connection between the two tracks of seemingly unconnected talks, and some clarification is needed here. The PM intended to say, that Israel should not provide the American Administration with any pretext to use as a justification for what looks like an American change of heart about Iran. In fact, the message was not addressed so much towards the Administration as it was towards Congress.

Netanyahu may have had more than his share of misunderstandings with this Administration. If he needed a reminder about who is REALLY the American thinking about him, he got it from Secretary Kerry who told his former colleagues in the Senate that they should not believe the Israelis With regard to Iran. This unfortunate and damaging statement will come to haunt the Secretary for a long time. He lost many points in Jerusalem, without necessarily winning any in Washington. Netanyahu is engaged in a campaign over the hearts and minds of Congress, a legitimate campaign, and one which he believes that can be won.

The truth is that while pro-Israeli lobbying is visible, and inevitably draws fire from the usual critics of Israel, there Is another, stronger and possibly more effective lobbying, that of Saudi- Arabia and the Gulf States. So, Congress is under pressure from more than one friend of the US in the region, and this pressure can produce a toughening of the sanctions against Iran, rather than a relaxation of them.

Under these circumstances, Netanyahu, an old Washingtonian hand understands full well, that verbal provocations from right-wing ministers are counterproductive to say the very least. Still, he needs to guard his wings, as these right-wing ministers are after him and are opposed to the negotiations with the Palestinians, and at the same time will go after him if he seen to radiate weakness about Iran. As of now, the PM is on safe ground with regard to Iran. He is under no pressure from within his cabinet and from public opinion. On Sunday he will a new ally, the French President Hollande, and no doubt will get an encouragement from the guest about Iran, though not with regard to the Palestinian talks, as the Socialist President will press hard for Israeli concessions including an end for settlement activity. Netanyahu is also fully aware that even staunch supporters of Israel on the Hill are no fans of the settlements.

With that in mind, the PM has to conduct the campaign about Iran With care and reserve . Maybe for a change, subjecting Domestic politics to the constraints of foreign policy, and not the other way around.