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Tel Aviv — Shoval continued: “Netanyahu will say ‘we made our case, we stood up even to our best of friends [i.e. America] and therefore we deserve another four years.”
Karmon predicted that the results of the American Presidential race will help Netanyahu’s campaign — whether the victor is Republican Mitt Romney, who on October 9 declared himself on the same page as Netanyahu regarding Iran, or Barack Obama with whom Netanyahu has a troubled relationship on Iran. “If Romney wins then he will present himself as politician who can have the ear and support of the new President,” said Karmon. “And if Obama wins he will say he’s the only one who can stand up to Obama.”
Karmon said that Netanyahu faces a similar win-win scenario in terms of Iran’s conduct. If Iran slows down its nuclear project as a result of international pressure Netanyahu will claim success for his lobbying; if Iran continues or accelerates its nuclear project, this will “boost” Netanyahu by making his credentials on Iran seem all the more valuable.
But some analysts are unsure that an Iran-focused campaign presents such guaranteed success for Netanyahu. Defense and public opinion expert Yehuda Ben-Meir, senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies and a former deputy foreign minister, commented: “The Iranian issue is a double-edged sword that can be used against him as well.” The Israeli public is split on the wisdom of a unilateral strike, said Ben-Meir, and focusing on Iran could lead to people perceiving Netanyahu as “trigger happy” and shunning him at the ballot.
Ben-Meir also believes that for practical reasons Iran will not be the lead issue for the campaign, simply because there isn’t enough for Netanyahu to say on the subject beyond what he has already said to sustain a campaign. “He’ll finish it in one minute so how can he use up the other three months? “ he asked rhetorically.
Ben-Meir expects Netanyahu to keep the Iran issue constantly in the background, highlighting why he thinks the country needs to hold on to him and drawing attention to his statesmanlike qualities, but said that campaigns tend to be dominated by issues that are more ideological than strategic. Ben-Meir thinks that the issue of the territories will emerge as the main election issue. “I think this will be Likud’s calling card — the claim that the left will divide Jerusalem and go back to 1967 borders,” he said.
Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, also thinks that Iran won’t be the lead issue. Inbar, who has been suggesting a strike on Iran for seven years, said that he expects the drafting of Haredim to the army and other domestic matters to take center stage. “I think that Netanyahu has lowered the line on the Iran issue slightly,” he said.
Shoval said that he believes domestic issues will be “just as central even more so” than foreign policy.