Benjamin Netanyahu has won the fifth Israeli election in as many years and will form a new government in the coming weeks. Netanyahu can be expected to broadly reprise his signature policies in pursuit of strong national security and robust economic growth for the Jewish state, along with his opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran. While his relationship with the Biden administration will likely be frosty, he will enjoy high support among Republicans and conservative Jews in the U.S. This sets up a unique dynamic for the U.S.–Israel relationship as it approaches its 75th anniversary next May.
Netanyahu is already Israel’s longest-tenured prime minister, having previously occupied the post from 1996 to 1999 and from 2009 to 2021. He has also, at one time or another over the years, been Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, its minister of finance, its minister of communications, and its permanent representative to the United Nations. He is, in short, the most credentialed politician in Israeli history.
While maintaining the U.S.–Israel alliance has been a priority for Netanyahu over the course of his political career, he has (like Israel itself) become increasingly polarizing in the United States, with support concentrated among conservatives, particularly Evangelical Christians. He had a fractious relationship with President Obama, primarily because of disagreements over the Iran nuclear deal and the Palestinian issue, which, if anything, burnished his image among American conservatives.
Relations between Netanyahu and President Trump were among the warmest in U.S.–Israeli history. Among the fruits of this partnership were the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the recognition of the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli territory, and the signing of the Abraham Peace Accords between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco. Those of us who served in the Trump administration helping to craft and implement these policies got, as did our Israeli counterparts, a sense of the enormous potential upside of strong bilateral relations as Israel emerges as an increasingly powerful modern nation on the world stage.
Netanyahu has had little chance to deal with the Biden administration; his government fell in June 2021, when Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid formed an opposition alliance that claimed the majority in the Knesset. But it is safe to say that the Biden administration’s determination to resurrect the Iran nuclear deal will make things increasingly difficult between Washington and Jerusalem.
The Biden administration is already leaking to the press that it may “refuse to engage with” Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of a far-right political bloc who will almost certainly be a senior minister in the new Israeli government. It’s an odd stance for an administration that is all too eager to engage with sanctioned Iranian and Russian officials in Vienna. There are also signals that it may be the first of many other unprecedented efforts undertaken by the administration to isolate Netanyahu internationally.
This could prove to be a dangerous game. With an apparently larger-than-anticipated majority of 64 Knesset seats and the good chance that Republicans will control the next Congress, however, Netanyahu may feel freer than he normally would to break with the White House and make himself an independent force in U.S. politics.
For example, the new Israeli premier will immediately become the global face of opposition to the Iranian regime. While Biden still attempts to coax the regime back to the negotiating table, Tehran has become increasingly toxic around the globe due to its brutal response to the popular protests against the murder of Mahsa Amini, not to mention its supply of lethal drones to the Russians for use in their barbaric invasion of Ukraine. A Republican Congress may well be emboldened to invite Netanyahu to speak on Iran against the administration’s wishes, as the Republican Congress did in 2015. This, in turn, could do significant political damage to any American effort to reenter the nuclear deal.
For those of us who share Netanyahu’s views on the deal, that would be a welcome development. But it would also represent a new independence for Israel from whoever might be serving as president of the United States, which would not necessarily be a bad thing. In fact, a more balanced U.S.–Israel relationship might be best for both parties, as a stronger and more autonomous Israel could be a more valuable ally to America.
After the fall of Netanyahu last year, the editors of National Review invited me to assess his legacy. The piece concluded with the observation that Bibi’s exit might not be the end of the story: “Netanyahu may be down at the moment, but I, for one, would be cautious about betting against him in the long term.” There is much to celebrate about the return of this unapologetically conservative prime minister, who may ultimately be remembered for ushering in a new phase in the critical strategic relationship between the United States and Israel.
This piece originally appeared in The National Review