Netanyahu speaks
PM Netanyahu (Photo: Roman Yanushevsky/Shutterstock.com)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main focus is still on Iran, even as President Donald Trump prepares to unveil his peace plan. For Netanyahu, peace initiatives and West Bank settlements are clearly important political issues. However, dealing with the Iranian threat remains his top priority and greatest mission.   

On Monday, Netanyahu met Trump in Washington to ostensibly discuss the imminent release of the US peace plan. However, the PM’s aides said that most of the meeting dealt with Iran, news website Ynet reported.

The two leaders spoke about curbing Iran’s aggression, Tehran’s nuclear efforts, and the “need to keep the pressure on all fronts.” Netanyahu and Trump also discussed unspecified regional “opportunities” created after the assassination of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, Ynet said.

This week, speculation about Netanyahu’s intention to annex West Bank settlements as part of the peace plan dominated the news cycle. However, His track record on the settlement issue is not as conclusive as his views on the Iranian threat.

Notably, Netanyahu has never wavered on Iran. Early on, he identified Tehran’s regional and nuclear ambitions as a grave threat to Israel. Since then, he has invested huge efforts and resources to combat Iran’s military buildup and expansion efforts.

Israel’s ongoing military campaign against Iranian forces in Syria is a clear indication of Netanyahu’s resolve. The PM has been very cautious about using force throughout his career. However, he continues to order airstrikes on Iranian targets despite a heightened chance of war.

Netanyahu’s Annexation Dilemma

On the settlements, Netanyahu’s rhetoric has always been decisive, but his actions less so. Since coming to power in 2009, he did not annex even one settlement. Netanyahu did make some promises to advance the issue over the years, but ultimately always blocked any plans to move forward.

At this time, getting a green light from Trump to proceed with annexation is an intriguing, and risky, possibility. Going ahead with it now would cement the support of many rightist voters, as well as Netanyahu’s place in history as a champion of the settlement project. But this could come with a price.

Netanyahu has avoided annexation so far because he is keenly aware of the potential costs. Any change to the status quo in the West Bank will likely provoke angry Western reactions, jeopardize Israel’s peace deal with Jordan, and possibly trigger a wave of Palestinian violence.

This does not mean that Netanyahu will avoid annexation at all costs. Ultimately, this will depend on an analysis of the potential impact on his political fortunes. Leaks from his office have already suggested that he may back down from annexing the Jordan valley, for now.

In parallel, Netanyahu will likely continue to press forward on the Iran front, openly or behind the scenes. Details of his talk with Trump naturally remain confidential, but Iran’s domestic and regional problems certainly present some options that he may wish to explore.

Meanwhile, the PM may have to attend to more pressing matters soon. The Palestinians are threatening to escalate the security situation to protest Trump’s plan, and the IDF has been placed on alert. Netanyahu will be watching this closely, while keeping his eyes on Iran.