- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
Stalled budget negotiations and Benjamin Netanyahu’s extension of the timeline for striking Iran’s nuclear facilities have the Israeli press speculating that the Israeli prime minister will call early elections in February or March (they’re currently scheduled for October 2013). But in a report today, the Israeli financial paper Globes suggested another reason why Netanyahu might want to hold elections as soon as possible:
The likely reelection of US President Barack Obama is also part of Netanyahu’s calculations. Netanyahu’s aides fear revenge by Obama against Netanyahu for supporting the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, throughout the campaign.
As my colleague Josh Keating pointed out yesterday, the Israeli leader hasn’t explicitly endorsed either candidate in the U.S. presidential election. But many political observers in Israel and the United States have pointed out that Netanyahu and Romney are like-minded friends who even have many donors in common, and argued that Netanyahu’s actions — hosting Romney in Israel, demanding that Obama set red lines for Iran’s nuclear program, chatting by phone with both Romney and Obama during a recent visit to New York — amount to an implicit endorsement of the GOP candidate (or, at the very least, an unstated preference).
Globes isn’t alone in raising the possibility that Obama, if reelected, could make Netanyahu pay a price for his perceived meddling in the race. As the president has pulled away from Romney in the polls, the idea has gained traction in the Israeli press. Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer, for instance, recently argued that Netanyahu’s behavior could torpedo the prime minister’s reelection bid:
Surveys show that Israelis are more concerned over losing their strategic alliance with the United States than they fear an Iranian nuclear bomb. Though very few serious observers believe there is much prospect of U.S.-Israeli ties being seriously downgraded during the administration of whichever candidate wins in November, there are certainly grounds to believe that the Obama-Netanyahu relationship will become even more acrimonious, should both leaders be reelected as polls indicate is likely. They have both been so bad at papering over their differences in public that there is little hope for any improvement once Obama enters his second term, unencumbered by electoral considerations….
If … Obama secures another four years in the Oval Office, then no matter how he treats Netanyahu and Israel over the next few months, Bibi’s opponents and media critics will ceaselessly remind voters how the prime minister allowed himself to be openly aligned with the president’s rival. Will that harm Netanyahu’s reelection bid? It depends on how deep the mistrust between him and Obama will seem and what other issues are on the agenda, but opposition politicians are already routinely blaming him for jeopardizing Israel’s most crucial relationship. For now, not one of his challengers is seen as a credible prime minister, and the electoral mathematics still favor a right-wing-religious coalition, but a full-blown crisis with the administration may yet prove the most significant threat to the chances of a third Netanyahu victory. If Obama wins in November, Netanyahu may very well regret his decision four months ago not to hold early elections in 2011.
In another Haaretz op-ed on Friday, Don Futterman, the Israel program director for the Moriah Fund, made a similar point:
Netanyahu and [casino magnate Sheldon Adelson] may have been able to buy Republican support for their pet positions: that Iran must be attacked and settlements allowed to flourish. They forgot to consider the possibility that Obama might be reelected. At this moment, it seems Netanyahu may have bet on the wrong horse, but why was the leader of the Jewish state betting on horses at all?…
The Iranian threat should never have become a partisan issue in U.S. election politics. If only our prime minister could have looked after Israel’s interest with dispassionate concern instead of trying to play kingmaker. Due to the damage he has done to Israel’s relationship with the U.S. administration and the personal animus he has demonstrated toward one of the most supportive American presidents Israel has ever known, Netanyahu’s legacy may prove more apocalyptic than messianic. His failure could be epic and historic.
And here’s former Knesset employee Susan Hattis Rolef in the Jerusalem Post a week earlier:
It is not difficult to guess that irrespective of the result of the US presidential election, but certainly in the case of an Obama victory which today seems more than likely, Netanyahu’s [appearance on the Sunday talk shows] will further distance liberal American Jewry from Israel, emotionally, culturally and financially.
Israel-US relations are already in need of some serious repair, and let us just hope that we are not in a situation of "all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again."
In the wake of Netanyahu’s visit to the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week, the White House and the prime minister’s office have emphasized their common ground when it comes to dealing with Iran, the biggest thorn in the side of U.S.-Israeli relations. But while we may all be focused on Nov. 6, some in Israel are still preoccupied by the question of what happens the day after.