Once again, as an American presidential election looms, the Israeli government is seeking to use it to achieve its own political goals. What is extraordinary is the highly public nature of its efforts. After his embassy in the US complained openly that president Obama would not re-arrange his schedule to meet with him on a recent visit to the US, itself a remarkable diplomatic faux pas, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now laying down ultimatums to the US about what it should do about Iran.
This is a major gamble by Netanyahu. It is true that the alliance of Christian Zionists, neoconservatives, and right-wing Jews in America tends to support hardline Israeli positions. But those groups were never going to support Obama so Obama has little to fear from them. The key question is how the rest of the country views Netanyahu’s efforts.
My sense is that most Americans are not likely to view favorably the leader of another country, even a close ally like Israel, injecting themselves into the US electoral process and trying to achieve its own goals by using such public pressure tactics. No country likes to see its elected leaders being pushed around by foreign leaders and this tactic has the real possibility of backfiring pretty badly on Netanyahu. In many ways, he reminds me a lot of Newt Gingrich, someone with a highly inflated sense of his own importance who gets petulant and stamps his feet if he thinks people are not paying sufficient attention and deference to his views.
It appears that Netanyahu is trying to swing the election in Mitt Romney’s favor. If Obama is re-elected, Netanyahu’s grandstanding may well hurt him down the road.