Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Shaul Mofaz, head of the Kadima party, right. (Ammar Awad / Courtesy Reuters)
In forming a vast new coalition government earlier this week -- which now includes the centrist party, Kadima, in addition to right-wing factions -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has one overriding purpose: to strengthen his hand on Iran. He now has uncontested political legitimacy with which to pressure the United States against protracted negotiations with Iran and to continue threatening a preemptive attack of his own.
Yet although Netanyahu cares most about stopping the Iranian nuclear program, the immediate impetus for the unity government was domestic: a call for electoral reform and ending the exemption of ultra-Orthodox seminary students from serving in the military. Even as Netanyahu forms the expanded coalition to advance his position on Iran, he cannot ignore these internal issues -- a sign that the Israeli electorate increasingly demands that its leaders address foreign and domestic concerns simultaneously.
The unity deal is Netanyahu’s attempt to reiterate to the United States his resolve to stop Iran from acquiring atomic weapons. In March, when U.S. President Barack Obama attempted to reassure Israel that he would not allow Iran to become a nuclear power by declaring that “the United States will always have Israel’s back,” Jerusalem essentially responded, “No thanks.” Israelis will not entrust their security to any outsider, even a friend. They recall that weeks before the 1967 Six-Day War, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, as good a friend as Israel has had in the White House, refused an Israeli request to lead an international flotilla to open the Straits of Tiran, which Egypt had shut to Israeli shipping -- even though Washington had promised to do precisely that in return for an Israeli withdrawal from Sinai following the 1956 Suez War. After Johnson’s refusal, Israel launched a successful preemptive strike against Egypt.