This is written one day after the elections in Brazil and one day before the elections in Israel. Both representing a knife-edge balance between basic security values.

In the case of Brazil, it was close, but in the end the returning challenger to continued, deeply problematic, Jair Bolsonaro rule, Lula da Silva, prevailed, paving the way for some kind of return to South American normalcy, and sighs of relief are heard not least from climate activists – in view of what the Bolsanaro regime had done, and threatened to do, to the Amazons. The profoundly polarized Brazil obviously faces enormous difficulties and challenges under a da Silva regime – and the question remains whether and to what extend Jair Bolsanaro will formally concede his loss, and whether deprived of immunity he will be prosecuted on the various charges he has amassed during his four years (or whether he will be guided by the Trump example in the art of denials).

Developments in the Latin American hegemon country Brazil are as uncertain as they are important to follow, regionally and globally.

Developments in Israel, by comparison, are more closely related to European security and global geo-politics. And Israel is, incredibly enough, now holding its fifth parliamentary elections in less than four years, a world record of sorts, reflecting Israeli politics’ deep polarization and fragmentation during recent decades. Again, the elections will essentially be like a referendum: for or against Benjamin Netanyahu, now for the first time in decades contesting not as sitting prime minister but as opposition leader, with the main driver being to come back as prime minister with the immunity and power to finally do away with the legal threats haunting him. This time, his LIKUD party relies on the necessary support from rising rightist extremist groupings in order to achieve the necessary 61 mandates majority in the Knesset. That in itself is ominous in various ways. For such a power constellation, as an indicator of trends in Israeli society and politics, would not be conducive to peace and stability within Israel itself, nor to Israel-US relations (perhaps even less so than during the time of Obama vs Netanyahu), nor to a peaceful resolution to the Iran crisis.

Nor to minimum light in the Israeli-Palestinian tunnel.

This can be stated the day before the elections, without knowing the outcome. For there is after all a big risk that divided Israeli voters will once against produce an impossible outcome, a 50-50 situation between the vague contours of opposing blocs (other than Bibi for or against), paving the way only for continued instability and institutional fragility and recourse to new elections as the only way out of deadlock, cementing internationally the image of today’s Israel, the sole liberal democracy in the MENA region, as essentially ungovernable, with uncertain security implications. If Netanyahu and his new electoral alliance does not win, who does, who could?

There could well be many days or weeks, or more, of political wranglings before the concrete governmental results of the elections are discernable.

But suppose Bibi Netanyahu does win, if narrowly, and based on collaboration with the rising stardom of ultra radical Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism Party, a comparatively uniquely far-rightist government constellation in the modern history of Israeli politics: what would it indicate about trends in Israeli society and politics and, again, what would it do to regional security?

Here there is one particular point of concern that needs urgent international attention: Iran. Great efforts were made by the outgoing Israeli government under first Naftali Bennet and lately Yair Lapid to seek to harmonize Israeli concerns over a nuclear-capable Iran with those of the Biden administration – for all the differences of opinion between them over the JCPOA deal. Such efforts, if any, will clearly be different and diminished with Bibi Netanyahu back in the Israeli driver seat, with full ownership of the JCPOA dossier.

This coincides with the current status of the fate of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, abandoned in 2017 by Donald Trump and the revival of which has been long prioritized by the Joe Biden team (as the “least bad” of available options), alongside the EU and the signatories of the deal, the UN Security Council members (Russia, China, UK, France, US) and Germany. Proxy negotiations held in Vienna have now and then announced strides of progress, to the surprise of sceptics of various kinds, in spite of all sorts of uphill battles following the general decline in global security, but it now seems that the number of JCPOA believers in Washington and elsewhere is plummeting to dangerously close to zero – at least for now.

Giving up on the JCPOA but sticking to the formula that Iran becoming a threshold nuclear power, with very short steps to actually acquiring its own nuclear deterrent in the Middle East balance of power, is totally and absolutely unacceptable, as Israel (regardless of government) has stated explicitly and the US has admitted at least implicitly, implies a very dangerous situation, obviously, with a lot of talk about “other measures”, meaning military measures, whatever this means concretely. One can assume that Joe Biden, regardless of the mid-term election results, will have to spend a lot of his remaining mandate time – over and above the Ukraine crisis – on a (or the) Iran crisis, now perhaps in uneasy partnership with a Netanyahu-run Israel and a characteristically more trigger happy PM. Needless to say, if the Republicans retake the majority in the House and perhaps also in the Senate, dealing with Bibi on Iran could be a nightmare before the 2024 presidentials.

The reasons why the saliency of the JCPOA option has declined drastically recently, in addition to the remaining unresolved mutual conditionalities, are mainly two-fold, as we have seen: on the one hand the delivery to Putin’s war efforts in Ukraine of thousands of cheap Iranian Shahed-136 drones, currently used by Russia to hammer Ukrainian civilian targets, on the other hand emerging US support for the wave of protest inside Iran. Clearly, compared to the 2009 experiences and thereafter, the US now feels free and motivated to openly and actively support the rebelling women in Iran as they increasingly challenge the very core of the mullah regime, “even if it costs us the JCPOA”, as some US representative was quoted as saying recently. In that sense, “regime change” is back in the US Iran dossier.

And now comes the tough part: What will a Netanyahu-led Israel do, in this overall situation of maximum uncertainty, if it sees that the Shia regime is shaken and stirred and therefore perhaps a bit desperate and if it sees that recent years of futile JCPOA negotiations have only produced much diminished distance in time between now and an Iranian bomb, as net result, and if it sees that mere bombardments on pro-Iranian targets in Syria are not enough to stave off the threat, and if it sees that the Biden administration after the mid-terms is weakened? What will it do? What does Mr Putin have to say about all this? After all, his military is still in Syria, and formally he still has a say on non-proliferation in general and the JCPOA Iranian issue in particular.

One cannot leave this rather scary scenario, for all its realism, without also mentioning the critical question how? How would Israel, with or without the US as the case might be under Netanyahu terms, act militarily to physically prevent Iran from proceeding with its nuclear plans towards own nuclear deterrent, an own arsenal? Is that doable, given what is known about Iran’s hardened underground facilities? How credible is the Israeli (/US) threat to take on “other”, i.e. military (cyber, nuclear, conventional…), means. Do the mullahs in Teheran, with all their problems, really care?

One way to conclude these reflexions would be to say that should Natanyahu somehow prevail in tomorrow’s elections he is bound to have a lot on the agenda for a long conversation with his good friend of before, Vladimir Putin. Including on the risks involved if threats to use tactical nuclear weapons fail to deter as intended.

The author is ambassador, holds a PhD and is a fellow of RSAWS.
This article is earlier published in Consilio International.