Netanyahu convinced the Americans that he was determined to attack Iran, which would have been a disaster for the U.S. But in fact the gambit was a bluff by Netanyahu with two dread aims.
Shibley Telhami, at Reuters, says that the thing Israel hates about this deal, that it is focused on Iran’s nuclear weapons and not on regime change or its regional actions, is something that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu himself effected. In 2011-2012, Netanyahu convinced the Americans that he was determined to attack Iran, which would have been a disaster for the U.S. But in fact the gambit was a bluff by Netanyahu with two dread aims: to expose Obama politically in the U.S. election and/or cause the U.S. to strike Iran first.
The meat of Telhami’s analysis:
Netanyahu preferred U.S military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, over Israeli ones, from the outset. His calculus was that the key fear that could drive the U.S. debate to support military strikes on Iran was the timeline of Iran’s nuclear program — not Tehran’s support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
Netanyahu exaggerated the imminent nuclear threat as much as possible. Remember how many times, over the years, he cited Iran as being only six months away from a bomb? He gave the impression that Israel was prepared to take matters into its own hands by striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, even without U.S. backing. Initially, however, most analysts, including U.S. officials, believed he was simply bluffing.
There were many reasons why the United States didn’t take Netanyahu’s early threats seriously…
in the lead-up to the 2012 U.S. presidential elections. The Israeli pressure on the Obama administration to take action substantially increased…
Here was Netanyahu’s political angle:
It was no secret that Netanyahu preferred the Republican nominee for president, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. His pressure on Obama was seen to be playing into the Republicans’ hands.
More on the Israeli bluff:
The Israelis took steps in 2012 that portrayed as credible their threat to attack Iran – and inevitably drawing the United States into the fight. We don’t know much about the specifics, but reports revealed hints that the Obama administration was growing increasingly alarmed by Israel’s actions. The Netanyahu government was spending billions of dollars on a military buildup, as well as consolidating military cooperation with Azerbaijan near Iran’s northern borders.
Not until a year later were there whispered suggestions — including one from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — that Netanyahu had spent billions to make his threats look more credible to Washington rather than for serious military preparation.