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Netanyahu plays a risky election game

What is going on between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mitt Romney? The rapport between the two is no secret, dating back to the 1970s when they both worked in the Boston Consulting Group. Romney has made it clear that if he becomes US president, he will pursue a more hawkish stance than President Obama, even hinting he would support Israel in a war with Iran. Netanyahu went out of his way to be photographed with Romney on the latter's visit to Israel, and has praised his views on Iran. It is clear, then, that a Romney win in November would be in Netanyahu's interest. But many people in Israel – including within Netanyahu's own government – are concerned that the Prime Minister is making his feelings known rather too clearly.

This week, a political advert on US television featured Netanyahu giving a speech, in which he said: "The fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs. The world tells Israel, 'Wait, there's still time.' And I say, 'Wait for what? Wait until when?'" The pro-Romney attack ad, which ended with the slogan "the world needs American strength, not apologies", will be aired in Jewish districts in south Florida.

Produced by a fringe group, it is unlikely to have a major impact on votes. But the use of the Israeli Prime Minister's remarks in an anti-Obama advert in a swing-state demonstrates the highly politicised nature of his vocal attacks on current US policy.

Mark Regev, Netanyahu's spokesman, said that they had not been consulted about the video, nor given permission for the speech to appear. Regardless of this particular video, however, the Israeli Prime Minister has made no secret of his favoured candidate, with open displays of warmth and enthusiasm for Romney. He has been criticised for meddling in the US election, a charge he dismisses as "groundless".

If, as is likely, Obama wins in November, this could have serious consequences for Netanyahu's relationship with the White House. It is a risk to which Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, appears to be attuned. On Thursday, he said he "wished to set the record straight" in case "there was any misreading" of Israel's intentions on the American elections. He said that Israel makes "no distinctions" between Democrats and Republicans and that it is policy to "stay as far away as possible" from internal American politics. Apparently attempting to distance the government from its own Prime Minister's remarks, he added: "Israel has no better friend than the US and no better friend than President Obama in the international community."

The relationship between Netanyahu and Romney makes sense. The two right-wing politicians share the same view on the Israel-Palestine conflict, which is essentially to maintain the status-quo rather than make efforts towards establishing an independent state for the Palestinian people. Romney's views were made very clear in a video, filmed secretly in May and released this week. In it, he says that the Palestinians are "committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel", adding that "the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace". Echoing the stance of Netanyahu, who has invested little in the peace process since being re-elected in 2009, he says: "This is going to remain an unsolved problem … We sort of live with it." While his extreme and unguarded remarks betray a lack of experience in foreign affairs, unfortunately they are shared by many conservatives in America.

While Netanyahu and Romney may share hawkish, right-wing views on Palestine and Iran, there is no question that it is diplomatically reckless for a Prime Minister to support one candidate above another in a foreign election – particularly if that country is a key ally. The back-pedalling from elsewhere in the Israeli government has begun, although it remains to be seen whether Netanyahu complies.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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