American officials have expressed their concern over the possible appointment of far-right Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich to head the Defense Ministry.
The possible naming of Itamar Ben Gvir to be the next Public Security Minister is also a cause for the American concerns expressed to Israel, in unambiguous terms.
Officials said they were relaying signals and hints to incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not to appoint the two to such sensitive positions, although no such request has been made officially.
In meetings held with Netanyahu, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides did not even mention the two controversial potential coalition members, by name. But there was never any doubt which "elephants in the room," were being referred to.
Nides worded his message carefully. He did not name any preference the U.S. has for the jobs but reiterated the administration's hope to see someone trustworthy appointed, so that the ongoing intimate dialogue between the security establishments of both countries, could continue.
According to the officials, the revelation of the American concerns was not an attempt by Netanyahu to pressure Smotrich to abandon his demand to be appointed to the Defense ministry, claiming the messages from Washington reflect a real and deep concern that with the far-right legislator, cooperation would be difficult.
To the U.S. the Defense Minister is perhaps the most important person, after the prime minister. There is much as stake including the threats from Iran and the war on terror.
Dialogue between Israeli and American defense counterparts is on a daily basis and faith in the person at the head of Israel's Defense Ministry must be unquestionable. The minister is privy to the most sensitive American secrets, is in dialogue with the White House as well ans the military and if Israel appoints someone that cannot be trusted, the intimate relations will end.
As for Ben Gvir, it is already clear that he will not be granted a visa to enter the U.S. after his conviction for supporting terror and inciting violence. Any visa request will be automatically denied when he will have to respond to questions regarding his past terror activity.
In order to overcome that, Ben Gvir will have to work hard to convince the Americans that he has changed. That is not an insurmountable obstacle for him and he will be judged by his actions.
Professor Eitan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israel relations said this is not a case of American intervention in Israeli affairs.
"The Americans have a position and they are issuing advanced warning of the possible results of such appointments," he said.
In Gilboa's opinion, both Somtrich and Ben Gvir will be denied entry to the U.S.
"Washington may or may not accept such appointments," Gilboa said. "U.S. President Joe Biden is under pressure from the progressive wing of the Democrat party, that has nearly doubled in Congress, in the midterms, growing from 6 to 11 members," he said.
Although they are still small in number, with the narrow majority in the Senate and the minority in the house, they would cause problems for Biden. Ben Gvir is a gift to the progressives, who have been accusing Israel of being an apartheid state and when Jerusalem requested a billion dollars in special funding to renew the depleted stock of Iron Dome missiles, it took a while before the administration was about to pass the decision," he said.
Gilboa believes that the administration's problems with the incoming Netanyahu government will concentrate on the West Bank, more than on appointments. "Any policy action that interferes with the two-state solution, such as settlement expansion, legislative changes of the 2005 disengagement law and reviving the West Bank settlement of Homesh, or legalizing outposts – are a red rag to a bull," Gilboa said. "The Americans do not want to see the possibility of a two-state solution, destroyed," he said.
He points out the diplomatic wording from Ambassador Nides, who said the U.S. will cooperate with any elected Israeli government which shares American values.
"By values, Nides does not mean those of Ben Gvir or Smotrich," he said.
Gilboa said that the right-wing in Israel thinks the U.S. is dependent on Israel and not the other way around. "We receive 3.8 billion dollars from the U.S. and F-35 stealth fighter jets," he said. "Now the question of occupation has been referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. We rely on the U.S. much more than they rely on us, if we take actions that are opposed to their interests, why would they cooperate with us?" he asked.
He also warned of a crisis in Israel's relations with the Jewish American communities. "Somtrich will be boycotted in the U.S.," he said. "He was already boycotted by the Jews in Britain," he said.
Ben Gvir is considered a follower of the racist Meir Kahana who began his political activism in the U.S. and that memory lingers with Jews there," he said. "Ben Gvir's participation in the memorial to Kahana last week, did not go unnoticed, and reveal he shares the views of a man suspected of terrorism in the U.S.," he said.
Giloba pointed out the possibility that the U.S. will resume nuclear talks with Iran after the midterm elections are over and with a defense minister who has no relationship with the administration, Israel will have no influence on the direction of the talks and will be less able to influence their outcome.
"Should Ben Gvir assume the role of Public Defense Minister, much of the current cooperation will end or be reduced," he said.