This accounts for Netanyahu’s combative mood. He found it easy to muster international support for a hard-line against Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was losing political ground at home and whose inflammatory rhetoric made him a reviled figure in much of the West. Rouhani, a smooth operator, has changed the game.
But if the Iranians appear to have outmaneuvered Netanyahu of late, their apparent confidence that he cannot exercise the military option under the current circumstances may be misplaced. The Prime Minister has domestic constraints of his own, having drawn a big red line and staked his reputation, which he much prizes, as a leader who can be counted on not to flinch when hard decisions are required to defend Israel—something he believes that only he can reliably do.
There is, in short, a game of chicken afoot between Israel and Iran. What’s not yet clear is which player, if either, will be the first to swerve.
Rajan Menon is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of Political Science at the City College of New York/City University of New York, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and the author, most recently, ofThe End of Alliances (Oxford University Press, 2007).