Israel moves quickly to congratulate Obama

Netanyahu paid tribute to 'rock solid' ties between the US and Israel. Many Israelis are worried about how the frosty first-term relationship will affect Obama's actions during his second term.

By , Correspondent

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    In this March 5 file photo, President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
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Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to congratulate President Obama on his reelection by paying tribute to an US-Israel alliance that, in his words, is "rock solid," though the upbeat statement belied widespread anxiety by Israelis that the leaders’ rocky relations would continue to cloud ties.

Now that Mr. Obama is free of the constraints of reelection, Israelis worry that he will feel less compelled to mollify Mr. Netanyahu on disputes over the Palestinian peace process and blocking Iran’s nuclear program. Obama has pushed Israel to renew talks with the Palestinians and has refused a request from Netanyahu to publicly set a "red line" for military action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Alluding to the tension with language that seemed lifted from GOP candidate Mitt Romney's talking points, parliament member Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, expressed hope the president "resets his course relating to Israel and our region for the next four years. Rather than dictating ill-advised policies that endanger the wellbeing of America's only true ally in the Middle East, now is the time for President Obama to return to the wise and time-honored policy of 'zero daylight' between our respective nations.''

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If Obama pushes more diplomatic talks with Iran while allowing it to continue to enrich uranium, sore spots with the US are likely persist like they did late into the election campaign, says one political expert.

"We all know that relations between Obama and Netanyahu have been tense at times," says Ephraim Inbar, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University. "Israel will have difficulty swallowing" policies considered to be "appeasement" of Iran.

During the past four years, Israelis have often described relations as sinking to a two-decade low as a result of the flare-ups.

The Palestinian view?

The Palestinians, however, see Obama’s relations with Israel differently. Though Obama pressured Israel, they were disappointed because he let up on demands for a halt in settlement activity.

Nonetheless, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the president to make sure that a Palestinian state is established before his time in office is up.

The Israeli prime minister, who is gearing up for his own reelection campaign that is expected to highlight his handling of foreign affairs, was put on the defensive on Wednesday morning as his surrogates hustled to fended off renewed allegations that Mr. Netanyahu had wrongly intervened in the US campaign on behalf of Mr. Romney, and that Israel might pay a diplomatic price.  

Speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro sought to quash that line of thinking.

"The president is a very strategic thinker," he said. "And that means that he’s not somebody whose policies are governed by emotion. Nor I would say are they policies which are governed by politics.''

Overplayed anxiety

Indeed, former diplomats and political analysts suggested that some of the anxiety is overplayed, because the ties between the allies are more robust than the sometimes rocky relations between the two leaders. They pointed to a weeks-long joint missile-defense training involving thousands of soldiers as evidence of the alliance’s durability.

That sentiment can be found on the ground in Israel as well.  One Netanyahu supporter expressed hope the prime minister could mend fences. Another supporter of the prime minister said he isn’t worried about Obama’s reelection because he has many pro-Israel advisers and has already come to Israel’s defense in the United Nations.

"Even though there has been tension between Bibi and Obama," says Ravi Dagan, a boutique owner, "the president has been there for us."

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