Netanyahu-Obama Relations at a Low Point?

How happy is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the results of this week’s US presidential election? Let’s put it this way: A guy who embraces Romney in August isn’t likely to bask in Obama’s warmth in November. A guy who shows the UN General Assembly a large piece of cardboard bearing a felt-tipped illustration of a ticking bomb that looks like it’s been pulled straight out of a Road Runner cartoon isn’t one who’s likely get Obama’s devoted attention in the future.

The bomb was of course Netanyahu’s stab in late September at trying to pull the US into yet another war, this one with Iran, and when that stunt failed, he tried another tack: with every breath the right-wing prime minister seemed to castigate his American counterpart for what he made clear through implication were Obama’s pusillanimous demurrals.

Why Israeli leadership should believe—still, after all this time—that American Jews vote all-Israel all the time in American elections is a puzzle. They never do. Exit polls this time around showed that around 70 percent of American Jews at the polls voted for Obama, a number only slightly lower than four years ago. (As the late Milton Himmelfarb of the American Jewish Committee famously put it: “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”)

In other words, Mitt Romney’s declaration in late October that Obama had “pushed allies like Israel under a bus”; his insistence, after accepting the nomination, that Obama had pursued what-me-worry policies that left Iran to its own nuclear devices and Americans “less secure”—all this failed to gain traction among the very voters Romney was playing to.

And frankly, it was foolish for Netanyahu to believe his tactics would work. It’s one thing for an American candidate to promise, as Romney did, to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. It’s another for a seasoned Israeli politician to believe this is actually going to happen anytime soon.

In Israel right now, there’s a lot of gloom at the top: and not just Netanyahu’s. Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave the kind of blustering assurance that is laced with terror, promising that it “will be possible to overcome any differences in our positions should they arise” (which is a lot like a doctor’s assurance that he’s giving you another set of chest x-rays “just to make sure”). Ronni Bar-Or, a Kadima parliamentarian who heads the foreign affairs and defense committee, was a lot blunter however, sharply criticizing what he calls, with painful accuracy, “Netanyahu’s gamble on Romney.” He only hopes, said the Knesset member, that “Obama will be generous enough so that Israel doesn’t have to pay the price for this dangerous gamble.”

So what’s going to be Obama’s attitude toward Israel in the next four years? Almost certainly the issue of Iran’s nuclear expansion and the potential effect on Israel (far more than on the United States) will arise—again and again and again, in fact. Will Obama be resistant to aiding an ally, should it find itself in imminent peril, simply because that ally’s prime minister fell for Romney?

Probably not. But one thing is certain. The question of what constitutes imminent peril for Israel will be examined with extreme caution and no particular sense of urgency before the US decides to jump in. The kind of extreme caution, in other words, that Netanyahu might have inadvertently brought about.

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