It was a love fest in Jerusalem Sunday at a morning meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and future Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Netanyahu may be the Israeli-born son of one of the Jewish State’s toughest pioneers, and Romney is the white-bread Mormon son of a liberal Republican American governor, but in this case opposites attract.
The issue was Iran’s nuclear program, and the comments were thinly veiled criticisms of the current US president, Barack Obama.
As the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported, Netanyahu agreed with Romney’s hard-line stance that Iran would not get a nuclear weapon on his watch:
“All the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota. We need a strong and credible military threat coupled with sanctions in order to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” said Netanyahu.
Later in Jerusalem, with the Second Temple in the background, Romney said of the US-Israeli relationship:
We serve the same cause and we have the same enemies. The security of Israel is a national security interest of the United States.
We should employ any and all measures [to prevent Iran from following a nuclear course.] We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself and America’s right to stand with you.
Earlier, Romney senior foreign policy advisor Dan Senor told a press briefing:
If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision.
This is about as far as any official has gone in giving Israel a green light to attack Iran, and it sends a clear message: Romney would be a much better friend of Israel than President Obama has been. (Romney later walked that comment back a bit. )
True, the president has made it clear that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon—including the military one.
But he has emphasized sanctions and diplomacy to stave off preemptive Israeli military action.
No doubt those sanctions have hurt Iran’s economy, but it’s unclear whether they have swayed the Islamic Republic’s leaders. Meanwhile, the diplomatic track appears to be going nowhere.
Still, some public opinion surveys show that a majority of Israelis oppose an attack on Iran without US support, and the main opposition party, Kadima, takes the same position.
A coalition government between Kadima and Netanyahu’s ruling Likud fell apart after the prime minister stalled on reforms that would require ultra-Orthodox Israelis to join the armed forces.
But Romney’s audience is not the majority of Israelis; he’s trying to win the support of Jews and non-Jews in America who oppose the president’s policy toward the Jewish State.
President Obama has had rocky relations with Netanyahu over issues such as Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the possible boundaries of a two-state solution. The tone has often been acrimonious, and many say the president doesn’t really love the Jewish State.
That gives Romney an opening in key swing states like Florida and Ohio among disaffected Jewish voters and evangelical Christians who support Israel enthusiastically.
But just as important, Romney’s tough rhetorical stance is likely to please wealthy Jewish donors, like billionaire magnate Sheldon Adelson, who will participate in a fund raiser for Romney Monday and attended his speech in Jerusalem. Adelson has pledged to contribute up to $100 million to Super PACs to defeat the president.
Clearly Netanyahu would like to see Romney, his former colleague at Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s, in the White House. But he can’t say that openly, so he let his tone and body language send that message to the people who really count.