When Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared in Lebanon recently to bolster the Iranian backed Hezbollah, he spoke to packed and enthusiastic rallies. His rhetoric was, as usual, highly inflammatory. He promised that “the Zionists will disappear” during his speech from the border town of Bint Jbeil.

There was an interesting piece in the Sunday Times by Uzi Mahnaimi this week about why Israel didn’t take this opportunity to assassinate one of its sworn enemies, at a point when he was less than one mile from the Israeli border.

One reason may be that, unpleasant though his views may be, from a deal-making point of view President Ahmadinejad is more useful to Israel alive than dead. Whilst he is President, the West worries about Iran and its potentially nuclear capability. A deal on this issue seems elusive and the consequences for the West rather frightening. What is their “best alternative to a negotiated agreement” with Ahmadinejad on Iran’s nuclear capability? Their best alternative (or BATNA in negotiating speak) is that Israel will provide a bulwark and a deterrent to keep Iran in check. From a negotiating point of view that puts Israel in a powerful position and means Israel is probably cut a little slack in its own dealings with the West on other intractable issues such as the status of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

So, maybe that’s why Israel continues to tolerate Ahmadinejad and the continued expression of his extreme views. In a strange way the hostility he arouses is useful to Israel in its dealings with the West. As one Israeli defence source was quoted as saying in the Article “if he did not exist we would have to invent him”