A tale of two kings
Romney and Netanyahu share a close friendship that has transcended time and distance.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney Photo: REUTERS/Laura Segall
The iconic writer of edge-of-the-seat thrillers, Robert Ludlum, could not have done it better —pen a story of the accidental introduction of two men who would one day occupy the world stage jointly. The current Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, and republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, met in 1976. They have shared a friendship that has transcended time and distance ever since.
Though they came from dissimilar backgrounds, Romney and Netanyahu were brought together by a new endeavor, the Boston Consulting Group. Each had been approached to act as a corporate advisor for the firm. Romney was a recent honors graduate from Harvard with dual degrees in law and business administration; Netanyahu, with an architecture diploma in hand, had just enrolled in the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to pursue a masters’ degree.
How did these two men—one from a middle class Jewish background, the other a member of a wealthy Mormon family—form such a bond of friendship? Netanyahu, born in Tel Aviv, received his secondary education in the United States and then joined the Israeli army in 1967 following his high school graduation. He enlisted to fight with the Jewish people against the Arab offensive. At the end of his term of duty, Netanyahu returned to the US to complete his college education.
Romney, born in 1947 in Detroit, completed one year of college at Stanford University before fulfilling his obligation as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. His assignment was two and one-half years in France. After returning to the US, Romney enrolled at Brigham Young University where he would meet and marry Ann Davies, who would later give birth to the couple’s five sons.
When the two future politicians first met, neither Netanyahu nor Romney envisioned a relationship that would endure the test of time. Nonetheless, that chance encounter has led to four decades of personal camaraderie. Having gained age and experience, the men are now poised to lead two of the most prominent countries in the world. Though they were reared under vastly different circumstances, their views are quite similar on a number of issues. According to a quote from Romney in The New York Times, “We can almost speak in shorthand. We share common experiences and have a perspective and underpinning which is similar.”
In conversations over the years, the friends have shared opinions on topics ranging from how to limit the size of government to financial investments. Netanyahu has kept Romney informed on the Iranian nuclear issue, while Romney was among the first to offer his sympathies upon the death of the Netanyahu family patriarch, Benzion Netanyahu.
When questioned about their friendship, Netanyahu offered reasons why they have remained close: “My sense is that we employ similar methods in analyzing problems and coming up with solutions for them.” The two politicians are exceptional among today’s officials. It would be challenging to find two men of such prominence with a similar history. It would also be difficult to envision a world leader who would be more in tune with Israel’s welfare. Romney has already signified that he would be hesitant to make noteworthy determinations about the Jewish state without first conferring with Mr. Netanyahu. This would be an utter about-face from the lackadaisical policies displayed by current US President Barack Obama. It has been his style to announce a major policy change while Israel’s prime minister was winging his way to a meeting in the US.
During the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting earlier this year, Romney submitted, “I have seen Israel by land and by air. I have seen its narrow waist, and its vulnerability to positions on the Golan Heights. I have spent time with families who have been terrorized by rocket attacks from Gaza. I have walked the streets of Jerusalem, seen schools pock-marked by rifle rounds fired from the foreboding hills that nearly surround it. I would never call for a return to the ’67 lines, because I understand that in Israel, geography is security.”
Romney has avowed that he will be willing to employ negotiation strategies when possible, but will not hesitate to defend Israel militarily. He stated firmly during his AIPAC speech, “Not since the dark days of 1967 and 1973 has the Middle East faced peril as it does today. This is a critical moment. America must not—and if I am president—it will not fail this defining test of history. The current administration has distanced itself from Israel and visibly warmed to the Palestinian cause. It has emboldened the Palestinians. They are convinced that they can do better at the United Nations—and better with America—than they can at the bargaining table with Israel. As president, I will treat our allies and friends like friends and allies.”
The former Massachusetts governor recoiled at the suggestion that the US should try to dictate policies to a sovereign nation: “The Obama administration’s clear message has been to warn Israel to consider the costs of military action against Iran. I do not believe that we should be issuing public warnings that create distance between the United States and Israel. Israel does not need public lectures about how to weigh decisions of war and peace. It needs our support.”
Romney has declared his intent to visit Netanyahu in Israel prior to the November elections — a trip he has made several times. While his opponent, Mr. Obama, has trekked to thirty countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, he has yet to set foot in the Holy Land. It is clear the president has a few fences to mend; all Mr. Romney has to do is repeat his support for Israel. Not surprisingly, Jewish support for President Obama has slid 10 percent. Support for Mr. Romney has risen to 29 percent, the largest republican percentage in twenty-four years.
Given the tense relationship between the president and prime minister, relations between the two countries are strained at best. The result is an unprecedented rift between the US and Israel that has not heretofore existed since Harry Truman recognized the newly formed state in 1948. Mr. Netanyahu must keep his façade of neutrality firmly in place, but in the still of the night, he must secretly hope — and pray — that the next president of the United States will be a staunch supporter of Israel.
The writer is a New York Times bestselling author. His latest book, Seven Days, will be released July 15. For information, visit www.SevenDaysByMikeEvans.com.