JERUSALEM — “Netanyahu gambled,” read a recent headline in the Tel Aviv daily Yediot Achronot. “We will pay.”
The article by political commentator Sima Kadmon was referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alleged support of Mitt Romney in the US presidential race. Some Israelis fear payback will come from President Barack Obama now that he is safely ensconced in the White House for another four-year term.
There is a virtual consensus among political analysts in Israel that Netanyahu went too far in recent months. He publicly confronted Obama over his refusal to fix a “red line” aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear program — a confrontation that embarrassed Obama with Jewish voters. Netanyahu was also criticized for the warmth of the greeting he extended to Romney during the Republican candidate’s visit to Israel in July.
Kadmon evoked the Jewish joke about the difference between a shlemeil and a shlamazel. The shlemeil is the one who spills the hot soup, and the shlamazel is the one he spills it on.
“In this case, Netanyahu is both the schlemiel and the shlamazel," she wrote. "He spilled the hot soup on himself but we all got burned.”
Israel’s leading political writer Nahum Barnea, however, doubts that Israel will get seriously burned.
“Obama isn’t built for a revenge campaign against a prime minister at the other end of the world," he said. "The worst that will happen is that he won’t rush to answer a telephone call from Israel.”
American support is Israel’s most important strategic asset, and the president's attitude toward that relationship is of utmost concern.
In her analysis, Ms. Kadmon said there was no question American support for Israel’s security will continue. But there were numerous ways in which the administration’s displeasure can make itself known – “funding that’s delayed, joint military exercises that are suddenly cancelled, the supply of spare parts that is slowed down. The US will not take Israel hostage because of Netanyahu on existential issues but beyond that there will be a cold shoulder.”
Unlike American Jews, almost 70 percent of whom voted for Obama, 57 percent of Israeli Jews favored Romney, according to polls. The Israelis evidently believed that the American president was not as vigorous as he could be in working to block the Iranian nuclear program. Polls show that Israel was the only foreign country whose population would have given a majority to Romney.
Mark Regev, aspokesman for Netanyahu, denied the prime minister had favored either candidate.
“He was totally neutral the whole campaign," Regev said.
A former Israeli ambassador to Washington, Itamar Rabinovich, said the president’s annoyance with Netanyahu could lead him to hint at support for a center-left candidate in the Israeli elections scheduled for January. But forming a realistic policy for the Middle East, he said, would require Israeli cooperation.
“Although such cooperation could be obtained by arm-twisting,” he said, “it would be preferable to obtain it by agreement.
Netanyahu spoke with President Obama two days after the election and congratulated him on his re-election. The prime minister said it was "a vote of confidence in your leadership."
Netanyahu said he looked forward to continuing to work with the president to address the great challenges facing the United States and Israel and to advance peace and security in our region.
Abraham Rabinovich is a former reporter with The Jerusalem Post and author of the “The Yom Kippur War” and “The Boats of Cherbourg.”