Netanyahu must not raise regional tensions with hard-line stance

A new government has been formed in Israel, with Benjamin Netanyahu sworn in as the country’s prime minister again after spending 1½ years out of power. It is hoped that he will exercise restraint, and avoid heightening tensions in the Middle East by escalating hostility with Palestinians and Iran.

Netanyahu’s latest administration has been described as the “most right-wing government in Israel’s history.” To secure a parliamentary majority, he invited far-right and religious parties that made major gains in last November’s general election to form a coalition.

The far-right party calls for expanding Jewish settlements in the autonomous areas of the Palestinians in the West Bank, and Israel’s annexation of those outposts. Netanyahu is expected to have no other option but to give some consideration to these radical ideas to maintain his coalition.

As Israel has been facing a series of attacks against Jews by Palestinians who oppose settlements, far-right forces gained support in the general election by calling for stronger security measures in response to such incidents.

Netanyahu served as Israel’s prime minister for a total of about 15 years until 2021, and there were frequent military clashes with Palestinians during that time. A vicious cycle in which his hard-line stance triggers bloodshed should not be created.

Tensions with the Palestinians could also have a negative impact on Israel’s diplomacy.

Israel, which was hostile to Arab countries for years, has recently established diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and has improved ties with Saudi Arabia.

Israel’s expansion of settlements in the West Bank could trigger a backlash from Arab nations and impede these diplomatic efforts. Such a policy could also lead to the country’s isolation in the international community.

Deteriorating relations between Israel and Iran are also a concern for the international community.

Netanyahu has consistently opposed a deal that the United States, European nations and other countries reached with Iran in 2015 to halt Tehran’s nuclear development program. It has been pointed out that he even considered a military strike against Iran when he was in power in the past.

During the first Cabinet meeting of his new coalition, Netanyahu reportedly expressed his firm determination for thwarting efforts by the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to rebuild the nuclear deal.

It is problematic that Iran has resumed its nuclear program after the administration of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew from the deal. However, there still should remain room for a diplomatic solution. It is irresponsible for Netanyahu to unilaterally oppose the deal without presenting an alternative plan to stop Iran’s nuclear development.

Stability in the Middle East is extremely important for Japan, as the nation depends on the region for about 90% of its oil imports. While urging Netanyahu to pursue a moderate policy, Japan also must exhort Iran to observe the nuclear deal and suspend supplying drones and other weapons to Russia.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 6, 2023)