TEL AVIV, Israel—For nearly four years, U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East policy—from axing the Iran nuclear deal to marginalizing Palestinians to brokering normalization deals between Israel and Gulf Arab states—has been the gift that keeps on giving for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The policies have helped endear Trump to his evangelical base and allowed Netanyahu to advance his hard-line agenda.
Now, with Trump raging over baseless claims that the U.S. election was “stolen,” some officials and analysts are worried that he’ll use the last 10 weeks of his term to grant more favors to Netanyahu—on Iran and on Jewish settlements in the West Bank—that could complicate President-elect Joe Biden’s approach to the region or, worse, tip it further into chaos.
“Netanyahu hopes to get other things from the Trump administration in the weeks that remain,” said Moav Vardi, an international affairs reporter for Israel’s public broadcaster. “There are a number of issues on the agenda.”
The two sides are already discussing a new round of sanctions on Iran, an issue that reportedly came up during a stop in Jerusalem this week by the U.S. special representative for Iran, Elliott Abrams. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will follow up with a visit to Israel on Nov. 18.
But sanctions might not be the only thing Trump is planning. His recent dismissal of Defense Secretary Mark Esper has spurred speculation that the president might be considering a military attack on Iran.
Netanyahu, long concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, has been agitating for war against the Islamic republic for years.
In addition to pressuring Iran, the Trump administration could still help the Israeli leader by brokering a new diplomatic opening in the Arab world or by looking the other way while Israel takes steps to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
That slate of potential unfinished business might help explain Netanyahu’s silence for more than 12 hours after U.S. news organizations over the weekend projected Biden as the winner in the election, Vardi said.
Netanyahu was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Trump in 2016. When he finally broke his silence on Sunday morning Israel time, he refrained from referring to Biden as the president-elect. And he paired his congratulations with gratitude to Trump for “the friendship you have shown the state of Israel and me personally … and for bringing the American-Israeli alliance to unprecedented heights.”
The deference to the president, who has refused to concede the race, reflects Netanyahu’s debt to Trump for the diplomatic windfall bequeathed to Israel—like normalization with the United Arab Emirates or the controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—political presents no previous U.S. president would have dared to bestow.