Many people are wondering why Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has decided to wreck Israel’s relationship with its superpower patron, a relationship that has been almost absurdly favourable to Israel, uniquely bipartisan and almost unchallenged within the US political establishment. For years he has appeared to be going out of his way to break this bipartisan link, working to undermine US foreign policy, embarrass the president, and show himself and his government to be allied not with the United States, but with the Republican Party. Why? Is it psychopathology or an ingenious scheme? Or both?
Most people who try to explain it (including those who write articles with titles like The real reason Netanyahu is willing to risk Israel’s relationship with the U.S.) tend to posit that the reason has something to do with Israel: Either he is doing it either out of a genuine belief that Obama’s negotiations with Iran threaten Israel’s survival, so demand desperate measures; or that it is a cynical short-term political calculation, intended to shore up his position with the Israeli electorate, particularly now, two weeks ahead of an election. But what if it has nothing to do with Israel’s future, or Netanyahu’s position in Israel, but with Netanyahu’s position outside of Israel?
My thinking here is inspired by a very insightful comment on Greek politics by Matthew Yglesias:
Normally you would think that a national prime minister’s best option is to try to do the stuff that’s likely to get him re-elected. No matter how bleak the outlook, this is your dominant strategy. But in the era of globalization and EU-ification, I think the leaders of small countries are actually in a somewhat different situation. If you leave office held in high esteem by the Davos set, there are any number of European Commission or IMF or whatnot gigs that you might be eligible for even if you’re absolutely despised by your fellow countrymen. Indeed, in some ways being absolutely despised would be a plus. The ultimate demonstration of solidarity to the “international community” would be to do what the international community wants even in the face of massive resistance from your domestic political constituency.
One constant of Netanyahu’s career has been his (for an Israeli politician) exceptional venality. Of course, Netanyahu (or any Israeli leader) has no future in Europe, or major international bodies; but the US is another very big world, and making himself the pet anti-terrorist Jew of the Republican Party could be a highly remunerative post, far more valuable in Shekels than anything that his home country can offer. And if he ends up destroying Israel in the process, he’s all set up to blame left-wing anti-Semitism allied with Islamo-fascism. It will be brilliant for business.