Benjamin Netanyahu and Joe Biden have spoken on the phone for the first time since Biden entered the White House on 20 January. The two leaders have had a close relationship for decades, beyond the political relationship they had during Obama's terms in office, when Joe Biden was Vice President and Netanyahu a newly elected Prime Minister of Israel.
During the call, Biden and Netayahu highlighted the ties between them personally and between the two countries. Biden wanted to emphasise that the United States' commitment to Israel's is unquestionable, and that it will continue to collaborate to promote peace agreements between Israel and the rest of the countries in the region, so Biden will continue with what Donald Trump initiated, which has allowed Israel to normalise relations with countries such as the Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.
Nor did Biden want to let slip his administration's desire to move towards peace, also between Israelis and Palestinians. It should be recalled that Biden's commitment to resolving the conflict is the two-state solution. Biden also congratulated Israel's leadership in the fight against COVID-19, being at the forefront of global vaccination.
Of course, the tension with Iran is part of the background to the call, as well as establishing this first contact between Washington and Tel Aviv. The United States is betting on a return to the nuclear agreement with Iran, as long as Tehran returns to complying with what it has signed, something it is not doing for now. This intentionality is highly questioned by Israel and Netanyahu himself, who in this sense was closer and more in tune with Donald Trump's position.
The delay in this call, now traditional after the arrival of a new tenant in the White House, indicated, according to some analysts, that there might be some friction between the two leaders precisely because of the way in which the Iranian threats are being dealt with. However, Netanyahu has categorically denied this, due to the aforementioned personal relationship he has with Biden.
Nevertheless, this relationship did not prevent the call from discussing developments in Iran's nuclear programme, a constant concern, if not the main concern of Netanyahu and Israel, now that relations with the rest of the countries in the region are stable and even very positive. This is why Netanyahu and his weakened government insist on a "policy of maximum pressure" from the White House. Also in recent weeks, the possibility of Israel carrying out targeted strikes on Iranian soil to weaken its nuclear capabilities has gained weight. Israeli sources acknowledge that, while the possibility exists, it would be a last resort.
Israel faces a new election day in almost a month's time, the fourth in two years. The date has been set for 23 March, and political moves are constantly being made to try to make the most of the personal situation facing the current prime minister. The last agreement between Netanyahu's Likud, Benny Gantz's Blue and White and other minority parties broke down due to a lack of agreement on the upcoming budget, inevitably leading to new elections.
Netanyahu's Likud party continues to lead in the polls, but the great fragmentation that exists in the Knesset does not augur better than the situation that emerged from the ballot box in the previous elections, which took place on 2 March 2020. After the elections, the main opposition Blue and White party fractured, and several of the coalition parties decided to go it alone from then on. This will be one of the factors that will determine the results on the 23rd, as Yesh Atid, one of the parties that decided to leave the Blue and White coalition, may become the second most voted party in the Israeli Parliament.
Another of the pre-election movements to note, in addition to the fact that Blue and White will see its role greatly reduced and will depend on exceeding the 3.25% that gives it four seats, is the appearance of a split from Likud. Gideon Sa'ar, a former Likud member with experience at the head of several ministries, has created a new party, New Hope, which is attracting more representatives from Netanyahu's party, which has placed it in the polls with a good chance of challenging Yesh Atid for second place.
Likud's growing weakness has led one of the parties in the outgoing government, the Geresh, to be invited to run in coalition with Likud, in an attempt to stabilise Netanyahu's loss of support.
Part of this loss comes not only from the instability that has plagued Israel in recent years, but also from the judicial processes that the Israeli leader is facing and which have recently begun. Due to the pandemic, Netanyahu's trial in connection with three separate cases was postponed until early February.
Netanyahu faces charges mainly of fraud and influence peddling in three cases, named 1,000, 2,000 and 4,000, which have been under investigation since 2016 and which, although until the process is completed and the possibilities of appeal are exhausted, do not mean that he must leave office, his image is being severely damaged.
There is still a month to go before Israel goes to the polls, but any detail can tip the balance to one side or the other. If Iran continues with its intention to block inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and advances in the production of enriched uranium, it could harden the discourse of the United States and the Israeli government, something that would consolidate Netanyahu's position. If, on the other hand, Iran acquiesces and the tension with the US eases, Israeli society may opt for a change of course in the country.