Daniel Levy makes a persuasive case that Netanyahu is unlikely to order an attack on Iran. He cites Netanyahu’s risk-averse behavior, which I have mentioned before, but goes beyond that to describe the political constraints in Israel that are rarely discussed here in the U.S.:
Another oft-overlooked aspect is the absence of public pressure in Israel for military intervention or of a supposed Iranian threat featuring as a priority issue for Israelis. The pressure to act is top-down, not bottom-up. And to the extent to which there is trepidation among the public, that is a function of fear at the blowback from Israeli military action, rather than fear of Iranian-initiated conflagration [bold mine-DL]. Also to be factored in is the possibility of 2012 being an election year in Israel (though technically the current parliament could serve until October 2013). If Netanyahu does pursue early elections, as many pundits expect, then the political risk associated with an attack increases, heightened by the likelihood of a strike being depicted as an election ploy. What’s more, prices at the pump are an issue for Israeli voters, just as they are in the United States.
So there appear to be a number of reasons why an Israeli strike on Iran harms Netanyahu’s political self-interest. Quite apart from the adverse consequences that an Iranian war would have for Israeli security, an Israeli attack on Iran could jeopardize the political survival of Netanyahu’s government. Members of Netanyahu’s own coalition represents another obstacle:
Especially noteworthy is the extent to which the elements of Netanyahu’s coalition further to his right have not embraced or promoted military action against Iran. In fact, they tend to demonstrate a lack of enthusiasm at the prospect. This applies to both the ultra-Orthodox and the greater Israel settler-nationalists. One reason is that they view the Iran issue as peripheral when compared with, say, the pursuit of settlements and an irreversible presence in all of greater Israel. In fact, a strike on Iran is sometimes depicted as presenting a threat to the settlement enterprise, in as much as there is an expectation that part of the fallout would be enhanced pressure on Israel to tamp down resulting regional anger by displaying more give on the Palestinian front.
This seems to be something that most American observers do not consider when thinking about the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran. One reason for this is that our Iran hawks tend to be equally vocal in their support for military action against Iran and their support for Israeli settlements. Perhaps Americans on both sides of the debate end up perceiving both positions as expressions of a uniform “pro-Israel” hawkishness. The idea that these two policies could be competing priorities inside the current Israeli government gets lost as a result. However, as Levy goes on to explain, keeping attention on Iran is useful to this part of the coalition:
The more settler-centric right is also cognizant of the distraction value served by the Iranian nuclear issue in deflecting attention from its land grabs and entrenchment in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Chances are, settlements won’t be making any headlines in next week’s Obama-Netanyahu meeting. Thus, removal of Iran from the agenda is a losing proposition for the settler lobby.