As the US presidential race reaches its climax both candidates have increasingly turned Israel into a major election issue, and perhaps inadvertently turned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into something of a king-maker. And that doesn't bode well for President Barack Obama, while challenger Mitt Romney is reaping the rewards of his good working relationship with the Israeli leader.
The latest black mark for Obama vis-a-vis Israel came in an interview this week with CBS's "60 Minutes," during which the president was asked to respond to criticism that he refuses to meet with Netanyahu at the UN next week because he feels pressured by the Israeli.
Netanyahu has been insisting for months that the only way to stop Iran's nuclear program and avoid war in the Middle East is for America to set firm red lines for Iranian compliance.
"When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people," Obama told his interviewer, adding, "And I am going to block out any noise that's out there."
The president continued: "Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we're in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply."
Nevertheless, the remark seemed to back up Romney's claims that Obama has at best resigned himself to a policy of containment when it comes to a nuclear-armed Iran, and at worst has "thrown Israel under the bus."
Just last week, senior Obama Administration officials insisted that the White House would not be setting any red lines for Iran, despite more than a decade of failed diplomatic efforts, and irrespective of Israel's concern that in the absence of a viable American threat, Iran will go nuclear.
Meanwhile, Israeli media reports local restlessness over the perception that Netanyahu is becoming too deeply involved in the American election and has clearly chosen a favorite.
Netanyahu sought to put the rumors to rest in an interview with NBC, stating, "You're trying to get me into the American election and I'm not going to do that. There's no one in Israel who appreciates more than me the importance of American support for Israel. It's not a partisan issue. In fact we cherish the bipartisan support of Democrats and Republicans alike. This is critical for us."
Still, there are many in Israel that fear if Obama is reelected, his displeasure with Netanyahu will lead to unprecedented American pressure on Israel.
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