US-Israel: Does ‘No Surprises’ Mean Don’t Touch Iran?

Published August 8th, 2021 - 06:07 GMT
(From L)  Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett and Benjamin Netanyahu
Opposition politicians Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett have signed a deal with several other parties to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured right. GIL COHEN-MAGEN, MENAHEM KAHANA, DEBBIE HILL AFP/File

Unlike Benjamin Netanyahu who is now on the opposition benches of the Knesset, the new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett likes to project a new image although both men are ideologically the same and belong to the extreme rightwing leading different parties.

The latest ‘fork-in-the-shoulder’ jab delivered by Netanyahu openly accusing Bennett of handing Israel’s sovereignty to the Americans and turning the country into a US protectorate shows the cut-throat manner of Israeli politics and the wheeling and dealing of Zionist parties.

Bennett, and the different Israeli parties, who joined in forming the present Israeli government show they have become tired of the former Israeli prime minister and his abrasive and forceful way of ruling Israel while showing callousness and outright disregard not only to the Palestinians but a major portion of the Israeli electorate.

Bennett wants to presents a fresh image and potentially a fresh approach although he is still a hardliner vis-à-vis the peace process, settlements on the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and his recent military incursions into southern Lebanon, which is a first-time affair in seven years.

If these are not hardliner policies many would ask what is? However, Bennett seeks to represent a more “amenable” style in domestic politics and international affairs which might be seen as more dangerous of getting approval by many. Take for example the extending of hands he has been offering to the Americans through his Foreign Minister Yair Lapid who promised the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Israel would agree to the adoption of a “no surprises” policy and will coordinate more closely with the Biden administration in Washington.

Many subsequently interpreted this to mean Israel was opening a new chapter and wouldn’t engage in aggressive foreign policy with regards to Iran, and no doubt the Middle East region although this was not spelt out. The “no surprises” policy now taken in Israel is supposed not follow an adventurist course like when its operatives killed Iran’s chief scientists Dr Mohsen Fakherizadeh in November 2020, going deep inside the country before tracing his steps and movements and aiming at him.

But we are yet to wait and see how long will this last or how it’s going to be interpreted particularly in the light of Israel’s recent military incursions, albeit limited into southern Lebanon, it’s free-for-all military flights over Beirut and the frequent rocket attacks inside the different parts of Syria. Israel under Netanyahu did indeed take an adventurist direction going as far as Iraq with its bomber jets.

Politics in the Middle East is fluid and indeed marred. The recent attacking of tankers in the Coast of Oman and the Gulf, one belonging to an Israeli business tycoon is raising tensions and may continue to complicate things but we are yet to see how far Israel would act against Iran and how far it is willing to exercise restraint in the face of the Biden administration’s attempt to rehabilitate Tehran back into the nuclear deal under US auspices – a move cut by the ex-Trump administration in 2018.

It appears all this is under the bridge now as Bennett prepares to meet Biden in late August or early September. No doubt such a meeting will discuss Iran, the stalled Palestinian peace process and of course, the emerging “no surprises” policy and coordination between Washington and Israel.

Already it is reported two of Bennett’s top advisors have gone to Washington to make sure both leaders are on the same page and that there are no “surprises” or potential embarrassments. But this is continuing to irk Netanyahu who openly speaks about past American pressure on Israel and the fact Washington tried on numerous occasions to force him into changing policy like when Barrack Obama cornered him into accepting a settlement freeze which he rejected.  

However, he said sometimes he did alter view but on many of the times he didn’t in the interest of Israel’s independence and security.  What worried him most was the fact that America was open to leakage from the media about sensitive information which could “thwart” action.

But despite his harangues on the United States – Washington provides Israel with $3.3 billion, the biggest annual aid package that far tops American assistance to any other state and which Netanyahu is very pleased with – the “no surprises” policy have always existed between Israel and Washington as documented, and even on numerous occasions when he was prime minister.

So what has changed? Well, corruption-ridden Netanyahu, who is facing legal action on different counts, is the kind of man who accepts money but doesn’t want to be told what to do, that’s why he was very friendly with Trump.

Under Biden things changed a little bit, especially on Iran and maybe, the Palestinians. It was not going to be an easy ride despite the fact Biden isn’t going to change policy on the US Embassy that had been relocated inside Jerusalem.

It’s hard to fathom Netanyahu on the “no surprises” pledge as well. His Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told the Americans back in March that there would be no surprises, unless it was coordinated. So who are we to believe? Was Ashkenazi just making pep talk – says genuine things to the Americans and then doing something completely the opposite.

Who is to be believed amidst this spreading row, no doubt for more domestic capital. Benny Ganz, also a Netanyahu stalwart and now serving as Israeli’s new Defense Minister came quickly on the scene. Israeli wouldn’t hesitate to strike Iran if there was a need to, he was quoted as saying.

But Iran, and maybe expectedly is continuing to say, it is not behind the recent attacks in the Gulf. But if not who is and what will it take to get to the bottom of this? It is well known Iran is gearing up to rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal which the Biden administration also wants. Could the attacks be coming from different quarters which don’t want to see the deal revived?

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