by Max Watkins:
This week, the International Atomic Energy Agency published its report on Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. Naturally, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad viciously denied these allegations and said his country’s goal was to acquire nuclear power, not weapons. The much-anticipated report has heightened the conflict between Iran, its neighbors, and their allies. Also on the rise: anti-Iran rhetoric. In response, Iran has lashed out at its perceived enemies—the United States and specifically Israel—who, Iran says, are attempting to use this report to increase pressure and sanctions on Iran.
But why is Israel giving great import to this report now, when for years Iran has been desperately trying to build a nuclear weapon and “wipe Israel off the map?” This latest IAEA report does not say anything new; it just affirms what has been suspected for years. In large part, Israel is using the findings to justify the increased assertiveness of its own foreign policy over the past several years, from its renewed construction of controversial settlements to its increased military activity and training. The report is a scapegoat. So what is the true reason for Israel’s recent aggression and saber-rattling?
The answer lies in internal Israeli politics. Israel is a parliamentary democracy, but extreme right-wing religious groups have essentially hijacked the parliament and government leaders. These Orthodox Jewish groups are hardliners: they want the government to subsidize a certain way of life (which often includes devotion to religious study instead of the production of income), keep Palestinians from their land, and build and pay for new settlements. Given that the government has subsidized these activities for decades now, the population of Orthodox Jews is rapidly increasing, requiring settlement expansion. And given that Israel is a small state surrounded by hostile neighbors, the government has to heavily militarize itself in order to expand its boundaries for new settlements and provide security.
So why then do politicians cater to this extreme demographic group? For two main reasons: first, they are a growing population with a strong voice in the electorate. Second, they are a highly loyal and dependable voting bloc. They carry inordinate influence relative to their size.
Although he is the leader of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not have much leeway in determining his actions. When the United States asks Netanyahu to halt the building of settlements, he can only delay the building for a few months. Netanyahu’s lack of independent decision-making in his actions undercuts chances for peace in the region. Until Israel can openly confront the special interest groups that currently exercise a stranglehold over its government and policies, we will continue to see new scapegoats being taking the blame.
Max Watkins ’14 is in Timothy Dwight College. He is a Globalist Notebook Beat Blogger. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.