With talk of an Israeli strike on Iran in the air, Bibi’s March 5th meeting with President Obama at the White House is garnering intense scrutiny. And let’s not kid ourselves—this meeting will not focus on the non-existent peace process or settlement construction. It will be Iran, Iran, Iran.
Netanyahu is well positioned to come away with some real achievements in this meeting. With an election coming up, Obama is not eager to come across as wishy-washy on Iran or apathetic about Israel’s safety. With a speech in front of AIPAC scheduled this weekend, Obama will be talking tough on Iran and underscoring his support for Israel. Remember this line from candidate Obama’s 2008 speech to AIPAC? – “Any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, (applause) with secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
And, interestingly, in that same speech Obama defended Israel’s military strike on Syria’s nuclear reactor: “And Syria has taken dangerous steps in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, which is why Israeli action was entirely justified to end that threat.”
Expect the president to continue this week’s tough rhetoric on Iran—today’s interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg reveals, “as president of the United States … I don’t bluff.” In the upcoming high-stakes game of diplomatic poker, Obama is sure to repeatedly defend that “all options are on the table.”
But Obama is not the only one with elections on his mind. As prime minister, Netanyahu can call elections anytime he wants until October 22, 2013, when the current Knesset’s term expires. With his surprisingly stable coalition, Bibi’s government has a very good chance of lasting through its entire term, a rarity in Israeli politics. But he has reason to call for early elections. Obama in campaign mode is much less likely to pick a fight with the prime minister—and complicate Bibi’s reelection bid—than Obama in 2013, flush with victory, beginning his second term.
Perhaps to check the right wing of his party, perhaps to unite the country before conflict with Iran, Netanyahu is trying to get moderates into the Likud leadership. There are rumors, and subsequent denials, about Netanyahu looking to bring Defense Minister Ehud Barak into his party as the Likud number two, keep him as defense minister, and incorporate Barak’s Independence Party list into Likud’s. This move would tip the scales against the well-organized right wing of the Likud party. This faction is to the right of the Likud electorate, and has tried to flex its muscle with the party of late.
Bibi plans another maneuver to consolidate moderate control of the party. He announced that he will run to be the first PM to simultaneously hold the presidency of the Likud Convention, giving him, instead of the right wing party membership, significant power in choosing the party list, and possibly in bringing in Barak.
Bibi may well be entering his time of plenty—a supportive President Obama, promising reelection prospects, and a moderate Likud party that will be better able to coordinate Israel’s efforts against Iran with the United States.