Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to shift President Donald Trump’s focus away from promise of peace with the Palestinians to the threat of war with Iran.
A major reason for the president’s making Saudi Arabia the first stop on his first foreign trip is to coordinate with friendly Sunni Arab states the containment of Iran and the threat of radical Islamic terrorism.
The president has been briefed that talking about doing something about the Palestinian issue will make it easier to talk to Saudis and other Gulf Arabs about the issues topping his agenda.
Netanyahu likes those topics and wants to be part of the game, but he wants to avoid any pressure from Washington on the Palestinian peace front. For that he has a two-pronged strategy — demonize and discredit the Palestinians by derailing any peace process, and by ratcheting up his anti-Iran rhetoric.
This week, he said Israeli is not obliged or constrained by the 2015 nuclear agreement signed with Iran by the United States and the major powers, and he was prepared to act unilaterally if Iran, in his view, violated the pact.
New worries arose when the Trump administration laced its usual belligerent anti-Iran rhetoric with statements that the agreement is working and Iran is keeping its side of the deal.
Netanyahu is bitter about his failure to goad Obama into attacking Iran and now is hoping Trump, who has an affinity for sword ratting (threatened to attack Mexico, brinkmanship with North Korea, escalating in Afghanistan) will be more susceptible.
Bibi knows the Saudis don’t like the Iran deal any more than he does, and he wants to be at the table with them in public, but he worries what admission price he will have to pay on the Palestinian account. Don’t ask him to freeze settlements; it is far too risky for the risk-averse prime minister.
He’s under pressure from his far right coalition not only to expand construction but to annex parts of the West Bank, get US recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and convince Trump to go somewhere else to make his deal of a lifetime.