To use fancy international relations theory jargon, what the Netanyahu administration is doing right now is “wigging out” — and not in a productive way, either. Let’s stipulate that Israel has reason to be more concerned about Iran’s nuclear program than the United States. Nevertheless, this gambit has zero upside.
The panic from Netanyahu’s government certainly appears to be self-defeating. The surest way to make the Obama administration ignore its protests and complaints was to engage in a very public at sabotage of ongoing negotiations, which Netanyahu did, and the quickest way to confirm that the practical alternative to a deal is war is to have Israeli officials stating that their government is prepared to attack Iran. Despite Netanyahu’s obvious desire to prevent a deal with Iran, his government’s behavior over the last few weeks seems to have lessened its influence with the administration and has made its complaints about the deal easier to dismiss.
Then again, this hasn’t cost Netanyahu that much. He is taking some criticism, but to a remarkable degree the disagreement between the U.S. and Israel over Iran has been treated as proof that Obama is letting Israel down. The louder and more unreasonable that Netanyahu and his officials are in their protests about the possible deal, the more that Obama is faulted by Iran hawks in the U.S. for not keeping them satisfied.
Drezner argues that Netanyahu has painted himself into a corner with threats of military action:
So say that [a deal] is negotiated. What can Israel do then? Netanyahu could follow through on his rhetoric and launch a unilateral strike. Maybe that would set Iran back a few years. It would also rupture any deal, accelerate Iran’s nuclear ambitions, invite unconventional retaliation from Iran and its proxies, and isolate Israel even further. If Netanyahu doesn’t follow through on his rhetoric, then every disparaging Israeli quote about Obama’s volte-face on Syria will be thrown back at the Israeli security establishment. Times a hundred.
Another possibility is that the Israeli threat to attack Iran could be revealed as empty bluster, and that this won’t matter in the long term very much because it will remind everyone that “credibility” arguments are nonsense. Attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities would make the Iranian government more interested in acquiring a nuclear weapon, so an Israeli strike couldn’t ever truly “prevent” that outcome in any case. Once a deal is negotiated, I suspect that Netanyahu will accept it as a fait accompli, because there is nothing else he plausibly could do that wouldn’t risk a huge breach between the U.S. and Israel.