Netanyahu returns to power in Israel: What it means to India and the world

Netanyahu used his closeness with world leaders, including Modi, as an asset during his campaign to show that others could not match his standing and secure Israel’s interests like him on the international stage.

Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu
Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party won 32 seats in the Knesset while outgoing PM Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid got 24 seats. File photo: PTI

Benjamin Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc secured victory in Israel’s general elections by claiming 64 out of the 120 seats in parliament.

It brings the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister back at the helm after a brief gap and ends prolonged political instability.

Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party won 32 seats in the Knesset while outgoing PM Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid got 24 seats.

Also read: Israel’s Yair Lapid concedes defeat; Netanyahu set to become PM again

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The biggest surprise of the polls after the final count was over is the far-right Religious Zionism party which won 14 seats becoming the third largest party.

Netanyahu’s other likely coalition partners, Shas and United Torah Judaism won 11 and seven seats, respectively bringing the bloc’s total count to 64.

Netanyahu-Modi friendship

According to political analysts, Netanyahu’s return to power could have major political implications – both domestically and internationally.

When it comes to India-Israel relations, Netanyahu has been an advocate of strong bilateral ties with India.

Also read: Pegasus was centerpiece of $2 billion deal between India, Israel: Report

Now, Indo-Israel strategic ties are likely to see an upward trajectory, and even witness an increased hype around it. Netanyahu is a personal friend of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Narendra Modi Benjamin Netanyahu
PM Narendra Modi receives Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to India in 2018. File Photo: Twitter/Narendra Modi

On Thursday night (November 3), Modi congratulated Netanyahu and said he looks forward to continuing their joint efforts to deepen the India-Israel strategic partnership.

“Mazel Tov my friend @netanyahu for your electoral success. I look forward to continuing our joint efforts to deepen the India-Israel strategic partnership,” he tweeted.

The 73-year-old Likud party leader was the second Israeli Prime Minister to visit India in January 2018. PM Modi made his historic visit to Israel, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, in July 2017.

India-Israel bilateral relations

India and Israel elevated their bilateral relations to a strategic partnership during Modi’s visit to Israel. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has focused on expanding knowledge-based partnership, which includes collaboration in innovation and research, including boosting the Make in India initiative.

Also read: Benjamin Netanyahu makes history as Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister

Netanyahu used his closeness with world leaders, including Modi, as an asset during his campaign to show that others could not match his standing and secure Israel’s interests like him on the international stage. One of the pictures his Likud party campaign used prominently was with Modi.

The long-time former Israeli prime minister has always demonstrated a soft corner for India with him and his wife, Sara, being declared Indian food lovers. The two also made sure to participate in this year’s August 15 celebrations hosted by the Indian embassy, despite being in the middle of an intense election campaign.

Netanyahu also tried to visit India a few times more during the build-up to his earlier campaigns but the visits got called off to address other urgent issues.

Also read: Netanyahu appoints the first openly gay minister

India’s relations with Israel have remained steady and strong even with the incumbent leadership, showing distinct signs of further progress with I2U2 (India, Israel, the United States and the United Arab Emirates) and discussions around a Free Trade Agreement, but it has not matched the heightened hype so visible with Netanyahu in power.

Disagreements with Joe Biden

When it comes to Israel-US relations, Netanyahu and American President Joe Biden have had disagreements over various issues in the past. Analysts feel both leaders will now have to gear up for a “complicated new era”.

Netanyahu had supported then US President Donald Trump and also delayed congratulating Biden when he was elected President.

Later, when Netanyahu congratulated Biden and said, “you and I have had a warm personal friendship going back many decades,” it angered Trump, who lashed out at him.

Netanyahu’s “aggressive, in-your-face style” has been at the heart of his clashes with Biden and other American presidents over the years, a New York Times report said on Thursday.

“The two leaders will find themselves in the position of sparring anew over issues that have long strained their relationship. It is the most complicated of relationships, vacillating between warmth and combat, sometimes on the same day,” it added.

As per a report on Axios quoting two US officials, “The Biden administration is unlikely to engage with Jewish supremacist politician Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is expected to be a senior minister in a Netanyahu’s government.”

Ben-Gvir said on Sunday that he plans to demand the public security ministry, which oversees Israel’s police and internal security, a report on Times of Israel said.

“US-Israel relations will remain close but are likely to be bumpier, especially if Bibi (Netanyahu’s nickname) tries to put his thumb on the scale of US politics in support of Republicans as he has in the past,” Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, was quoted as saying in the report.

In a daily briefing on Wednesday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “We hope all Israeli government officials will continue to share the values of open democratic society including tolerance and respect for all minority groups.”

Last year, Biden, in a telephonic call with PM Netanyahu, had supported Israel’s “right to defend itself” against indiscriminate rocket attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas and encouraged him to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians.

He encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians. The two leaders discussed progress in Israel’s military operations against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza.

Tough stance against Iran

Netanyahu has taken a tough stance on Iran and in February this year, referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, said, “The nuclear deal with Iran threatens our existence.”

Under the deal, Iran had agreed to greatly limit its nuclear programme through 2025. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal, is an agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme reached in Vienna on July 14, 2015, between Iran and the P5+1 together with the European Union.

P5+1 include the five permanent members of the Security Council – namely China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – plus Germany, who during the Obama administration had entered into an agreement with Iran.

Former US president Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018, which was supported by Netanyahu.

Last month, the US said the deal is “not our focus right now”. And Netanyahu is likely to strongly oppose US re-joining JCPOA.

Close ties with Putin

Netanyahu, who has spoken about his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, last month revealed that he would consider supplying arms to Ukraine if he returns to office.

In July, he had hit out at PM Yair Lapid and Defence Minister Benny Gantz for mismanaging relationships with Russia.

For years “we have led a measured, balanced and responsible relationship” with Russia, but that there was currently “a dangerous crisis” and Lapid and Gantz were “babbling” and “endangering our national security”, according to a report in Times of Israel.

In February, on the Russia-Ukraine war, he had asked the government to remain silent. “In days like these, it’s advisable to take positions with the utmost caution. Unfortunately, in the last few days we’ve heard too many unnecessary expressions and too many false predictions.”

“During his long previous stint as prime minister, Netanyahu frequently met Putin in person and talked with him on the phone. Russian-Israeli relations were basically good, despite Moscow’s close ties with Tehran,” said Mark Katz, non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Programs, according to a report on The Hill.

“With the war in Ukraine having led to Russian ties with Iran becoming much closer and the Russian-American relationship becoming much worse, Netanyahu may be less able than he was before to have the same good working relationship with Putin or to successfully manoeuvre between Washington and Moscow,” Katz added.

What do Arabs say?

Netanyahu’s likely return to power will fuel concern about deepening tensions with Arab neighbours, but Gulf states which forged ties with Israel under his leadership will see him as a regional balance against Iranian power, a Reuters report said.

In 2020, under Netanyahu’s government, Israel normalised relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and Morocco a few months later.

Gulf states like the UAE, Iran is a main concern and Israel, no matter which government, has always taken a strong line against Iran and its nuclear deal with global powers, Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent Emirati political analyst, was quoted as saying in the report.

Abdulla added that the victory of what he described as the “worst of the worst in Israeli politics” would have an impact mainly on Palestinians and kill any talk of a two-state solution.

Netanyahu took a hard line towards the Palestinians, putting security concerns at the top of any talk of peace, and long warned of existential danger to Israel from Iran.

(With inputs from agencies)

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