William Collier- Salafist militants in the Middle East will face a major squeeze thanks to the election results from Isreal's March 17 election.
This victory by a hawkish Israeli leader, who is matched for his anti-Salafist hard line by the government's of Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, will put the squeeze on Salafist militants. It is widely known, for instance, that the Palestinian Arabs are largely led by militant Salafists. Moreover, these Pasletinian Arab Salafists have proven to be problematic in Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon and have helped fund and support nasceant, but suppressed, Salafist cells in the UAE. Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, for instance, often sounds "reasonable" when he speaks English but his Arabic rhetoric is pro-Salafist straight down the line, just as much as Hezbollah and Hamas. Fatah is even persuing a "war crimes" indictment of Israel's Prime Minister, which makes any notion of negotiating peace with such an entity an absurdity.
Much of the world and Israeli media, and polls, predicted a win for the leftist Zionist Union, led by Isaac Herzog. Indeed it is believed that as many as 100,000 Arabs may have voted for the Zionist Union in an effort to unseat Netenyahu, though this is disputed. Nonethless, what voting by Arabs for Xionist Union did occure was laregly organized by a group called "OneVoice" which enjoys US State Department support. Additionally, the Zionist Union was boosted by V15, which stands for Victory 15, a group that was dedicated to unseating the Prime Minister. Currently the US Senate is investigating the use of funds given to OneVoice by the US State Department which it is believed by some were used in a partisan political manner, which would violate US Law, OneVoice funded and helped V15 with manpower. OneVoice had announced its intention to conduct a campaign during the next election as early as last fall, and received its $350,000 grant from the US State Department in November.
But despite the negative polls and the constant drumbeat by the media against Netenyahu, in the end a coalition of nationalist and religious Parties led by Binyamin Netanyahu, and his Likud Party, is likely to win 67 seats in the Israeli Knesset. The threshold for a majority coalition is 61. What is more, Likud beat the Zionist Union by 6 seats, with 30 seats to the Zionist Union's 24 seats.
Consensus among Israelis is strongly against any comrpomise with the pro-Salafist leaders of the Palestinian Arabs and is especially strong against Iran. Both Herzog and Netenyahu had stated that Israel would not allow a nuclear Iran under ANY circumstances, a stance largely supported by most Arab powers but opposed by the Palestinian Arab leaders who enjoy support for arms and money from Iran.
In 2013 Netenyahu was forced into government with Yair Lapid's liberal to moderate "Yesh Atid" Party, which had 19 seats, and Tzipi Livni's very liberal Hatnua Party which had 6 seats. But the coalition, deemed a "technical coalition" because it paired ideologically incompatible Parties, did not last. In December of 2014 both Lapid (as Finance Minister) and Livni (as Justice Minister) were expelled and Netenyahu called for early elections. Defections by top level intelligence and military officials, who publicly condemned the Prime Minister for his speech before the US Congress and who declared his assessment of the Iran situation to be "fear mongering" did not influence voters as many felt they would. It is probable that, once the new government is formed, many of these people will be looking for new jobs.
During the campaign Netenyahu stated that he now opposed a two state solution, albeit with the caveat "not with the current leaders" of the Palestinians, which include Fatah and Hamas. It is largely believed by analysts that this bit of hyperbole will be "clarified" in the near future, with an emphasis on finding "credible partners", but overall a hard stance vis-a-vis the "Palestinian question" is envisioned. This is especially true as Arab Powers are becoming more concerned with the very real threats posed by Salafist extremism, ISIL in Syria and Iraq, and Iran's expanding influence in the region. Due to this concern an unofficial but high level of cooperation with Israel is seen as more of a necessity, especially in light of America's perceived absence from the field.
The implications for US and Israeli relations are strong. While President Obama and the Prime Minister do not get along personally, and while the American President is accused of actively trying to unseat Netenyahu, the fact is that both men will have to deal with each other. But while Obama is in the twilight of his Presidency and faces growing opposition at home for his foreign policy, Netenyahu may feel he has a mandate to ignore and sidestep the current American President's admonitions. Indeed, Netenyahu has been aggressively seeking bilateral relations and cooperation with Israel's neighbors, relations which increasignly do not take American policy into account.
Israel's government will no longer include such doves as Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, whose views regarding negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs and Iran were shown to reflect a minority view among Israeli Jews. The Prime Minister will no longer face an intelligence or military leadership which includes critics who might resist his policies. Moreover, voters clearly showed that resisting and even thumbing his nose at the American President's admonitions is generally supported by his people. Of note, President Obama's popularity in Israel is extremely low as many Israelis feel that the Obama Administration is biased in favor of Israel's Salafist foes.
The likelihood of an Israeli strike against the Iranian nuclear program, whatever deal is worked out by US Secretary of State John Kerry, has decidedly increased. Past efforts by Netenyahu were opposed by his then coalition partners, but such opposition is unlikely to come from his new coalition partners.
Overall, a squeeze will be put on the Salafists forces in the Middle East by Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and the UAE, with tacit approval by Saudi Arabia whose own Salafism is somehwat moderated and more pragmatic. One can foresee that Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and the UAE will take a lead role in events in the Middle East as the United States has not only failed to lead the opposition to militant Salafism but is now willing to make deals with Salafist forces, including Iran, even at the expense of the express wishes and interests of regional American Allies.