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.”

Romney, 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].”

Netanyahu may 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 time.”

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 lines.

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.

“You’re trying 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.

He 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.

His 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.”

At a 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.

Romney’s 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

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