It’s been no secret that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would prefer Mitt
Romney as president of America.
He’s had a very tense relationship with
Barack Obama, who came to office intent on restarting a peace process the
Israeli prime minister would prefer to see shelved. There has been an ongoing
flow of anti-Obama leaks coming out of “sources” in Jerusalem often identified
in the Israeli media as “close to the prime minister’s office.”
who has known Netanyahu since their early days in the financial world in Boston
(they tell differing versions of how well they knew each other), is closer to
the prime minister in some of his views. He is much more bellicose toward Iran,
although he won’t say what he would do differently than Obama, and he shows no
apparent interest in reviving the peace process.
They share some neo-con
advisors and, most importantly, some major financial benefactors, particularly
controversial casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Romney has repeatedly
accused Obama of tossing Israel “under the bus.” It’s the mantra of his appeal
to evangelical and Jewish voters and contributors in his campaign to make Israel
a partisan wedge issue.
David Gregory pressed Netanyahu on that question
Sunday on Meet the Press, and when the prime minister avoided answering, Gregory
said his silence was tantamount to agreeing with the Republican candidate.
Netanyahu finally replied, “There’s no bus.”
Netanyahu passed up repeated
opportunities on several Sunday morning talk shows to endorse Romney or
criticize Obama. “The only bus that is really important is the Iranian nuclear
bus. That’s the one that we have to derail [sic].”
personally prefer Romney but for a guy working in a city with a world-famous
wall, he knows how to read the handwriting.
Just last week his aides were
complaining he was being snubbed by Obama for not meeting with him when the
prime minister travels to the UN later this month. He sounded petulant and
whiney, even when it turned out Obama was having no one-on-one meetings with
foreign leaders. By Sunday Netanyahu shrugged it off as a mere scheduling
conflict and boasted: “I have met with President Obama more than any other world
leader has, and for that I am grateful.... We talk all the
Netanyahu also retreated from his angry retort last week to
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement that the United States was “not
setting deadlines” he had demanded for thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta added that red lines like the ones Netanyahu has
been insisting upon are “the kind of political arguments that are used to try to
put people in a corner.”
Which is just what Netanyahu was trying to do to
Obama. And a bit disingenuously since the prime minister is demanding the
president do what Netanyahu will not do for Israel - announce his own red
A fuming Netanyahu scolded, “Those in the international community
who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red
light before Israel.”
Even Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic, who is more
sympathetic toward Netanyahu than the Israeli leader deserves, accused the prime
minister of “incompetent management of the US-Israel relationship”; not one of
the best kept secrets in either capital. “If you want to find out red lines,
don’t mouth off about the President and secretary of state two months before an
election,” Goldberg advised.
But the problem goes much deeper. Netanyahu
has a reputation as a serial meddler in American politics and in Israel is known
as the leaker-in-chief.
Netanyahu denies meddling.
to get me into the American election and I’m not going to do that,” he told CNN.
“I have no doubt that [Obama and Romney are] equally committed to preventing”
Iran from going nuclear. “It’s a vital American interest.... We’re united on
this across the board,” Netanyahu said.
While Netanyahu may be privately
rooting for Romney, when it comes to foreign policy he knows the Republican
candidate looks increasingly like he’s not ready for prime time, and this has to
be a serious concern for the Israeli leader.
Romney’s summer trip abroad
to polish his foreign policy credentials left them badly tarnished.
went to England and insulted the Brits by telling them he didn’t think they were
ready for the Olympics and then to Israel where he snubbed the Israeli
opposition leaders and the Palestinian president and said the Palestinians’
economy was weaker than Israel’s because they’re culturally inferior.
reaction to the rioting in the Muslim world and the murder of the American
ambassador to Libya and three aides left the impression, as one GOP political
strategist put it, that “Sarah Palin is his foreign policy advisor.”
time when Republican congressional leaders and former Bush administration
officials united behind the president in time of international crisis - it was
also the anniversary of 9/11/01 - Romney was trying to politicize a tragedy, and
only made things worse by falsely accusing the administration of failing to
condemn the attacks and “sympathiz[ing]” with the rioters.
actions disappointed many of his followers and led Obama to call him a man who
“shoots first and aims later.”
Goldberg said Netanyahu probably prefers
Romney, but “From what I understand, he apparently believes Romney doesn’t have
much of a chance of winning.”
It is dawning on Netanyahu that Obama is
likely to be around for another four years, and 2013 will be an election year in
Israel. Netanyahu, who was defeated for reelection in 1999 (by his now defense
minister, Ehud Barak) in no small part because he had a reputation for not being
able to work well with the country’s most important ally and best friend,
doesn’t want history to repeat itself.
©2012 Douglas M. Bloomfield