Israeli politicians clamber to congratulate victorious Obama
Politicians in Israel were falling over themselves on 7 November to congratulate Barack Obama on his re-election as United States president and reaffirm the strategic bonds between the two countries ahead of Israel’s general election in January.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu led the plaudits, saying: “I will continue to work with President Obama to ensure the interests that are vital for the security of Israel’s citizens.” Netanyahu, who had been accused by opposition politicians of interfering in the US election by displaying a partisan approach to Obama’s defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney, also stressed that the relationship between Israel and the US was “stronger than ever”.
In a year when Israel may choose to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear programme, perhaps in defiance of US wishes, this assertion may be put to the test. Meanwhile, defence minister Ehud Barak, who has enjoyed a close relationship with the US but who may not be in government after Israel’s upcoming election said: “I have no doubt that the Obama government will continue with its policy that is based on support for the security of Israel, and which strives to cope with the challenges the region places in front of all of us, while striving for progress in the peace process.”
Opposition leaders were all effusive in their praise for Obama and most chose to either draw parallels with the Israeli election in January or Netanyahu’s perceived poor handling of ties with Washington. For example, Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid party called on Netanyahu to “remedy the tattered relationship between himself and the leadership in Washington.” Kadima MK Shlomo Mollawas blunter, attacking Netanyahu for interfering in the election. “The prime minister hurt Israel with his arrogant and incomprehensible involvement [in US elections] on the side of Mitt Romney,” he said. “In these elections America coped with questions that Republicans chose to ignore, including: the treatment of minorities, the strong versus the weak, and the treatment of tycoons. Does that remind you of anything?”
Israel obviously prides itself on the depth of its relations with Washington and its politicians are usually among the first to congratulate the incoming US president. Yet this election has thrown up interesting dilemmas and dynamics that Netanyahu in particular will be hoping do not come back to haunt him should he also be re-elected – as currently expected – in January. His personal relationship with Obama has never been especially warm and there are clear policy divides between the moderate path vis-à-vis settlements, the peace process and Iran advocated by the White House and the more nationalistic line pursued by Netanyahu. With 2013 increasingly seen in Israel as the year in which a decision about whether to attack Iran must be made, these interconnected issues and the price a re-elected Netanyahu is willing to pay for US support over a strike on Iran will again rise to surface, as will tensions and disputes between the two very different world views espoused by the two leaders.