Israel Could Be Facing a Tense Week
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
President Trump appears to have developed a closer relationship with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Government of Israel than he has with any other country. As a result, Netanyahu appears to believe that the U.S. has given Israel carte blanche to act in Gaza, on the Golan Heights, on the West Bank, and, apparently also, against Iranian forces in Syria.
At present there is virtually no political force in Israel prepared to challenge Netanyahu. His governing coalition looks to be solid. The international community does not truly seem to concern or constrain Israel. Given the Trump Administration virtual acquiescence to everything Netanyahu wants to do for his national security, the Israeli Government is able to act with virtual impunity of any national or global considerations.
To add to these outside forces, the Israeli Knesset enacted legislation which could further embolden Netanyahu. Under the new law, the Prime Minister needs only to consult with the Defense Minister should he decide to go to war. The security cabinet does not need to be consulted to say nothing of the full Cabinet. (This law clearly does not refer to an attack that requires an immediate response, but does give enormous unrestrained power to two Ministers in a coalition Government.) What is especially troublesome about this new law is that there have been a number of times where the Israeli Prime Minister also has held the portfolio of Defense Minister, as Prime Minister Netanyahu currently also holds the position of Foreign Minister, in the Israeli cabinet. A future Israeli Prime Minister might only need to consult with himself.
These events are especially pertinent as Iran and Israel have been ratcheting up bellicose rhetoric on several fronts. First, Israel is very sensitive to whether the JCPOA with Iran will or will not be extended. Israel’s opposition to the arrangement in its current form has been widely reported and appears to have bolstered significantly much of the thinking in the Trump White House. Second, Iran and Israel appear to persist in playing a very dangerous game of chicken regarding Iran’s continued presence in Syria. Third, Russia’s continued significant presence in Syria in the Damascus region and especially its recent installation of defense equipment–which could well be Russian-operated—escalates the potential danger in an Israeli effort to neutralize the Syria/Iran/Russian maneuvers. All of this does not address the hardly inconsequential potential of a major strike by Hezbollah, also aided by Iran, from Lebanon.
As the May 12th deadline passes, Israeli forces clearly will be on alert to respond to any consequences which will be precipitated by whatever action is taken by President Trump on the Iran deal. In addition, on May 14th there undoubtedly will be major Palestinian responses in Gaza and on the West Bank when an American delegation will be in Israel for the official opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.