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Is the Israeli Gov't Trying to Smooth Over Strained Relations With Obama Just Weeks Before Election Day?


“Israel has no better friend than the U.S. and no better friend than President Obama in the international community.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Mayor Rahm Emanuel meet Thursday in Chicago (Photo courtesy City of Chicago/Brooke Collins)

With polls in recent days appearing to favor President Barack Obama, there are signs the Israeli government is trying to repair relations with the Obama administration, strained over their difference of opinion about how to best handle the Iranian nuclear threat.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak met privately Thursday with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in what’s being viewed in Israel as the extending of an olive branch to Obama for whom Emanuel served as White House chief of staff. At the same time, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister had warm words for Obama in a New York speech.

Haaretz reports:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won't meet with the President Barak Obama next week on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York, but in order to ease the recent tensions between the heads of state, Netanyahu sent a message of appeasement to the Obama campaign in the form of Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. The message: The Israeli leader is not meddling in the elections taking place in the United States. […]

At their meeting, Barak told Emanuel that Netanyahu is unapologetic for his stance on Iran, but that he has absolutely no intention to support one presidential candidate or another or get involved in any other way in the elections.

The Times of Israel characterized Defense Minister Barak’s words as “a message of rapprochement” from Netanyahu.

Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that Emanuel and Barak have been friends for 18 years. They shared lunch at Chicago City Hall, where Emanuel presented the Israeli minister “a six-pack of Chicago’s Goose Island 312 beer.” She writes “Emanuel is a logical conduit” since he spent summers in Israel as a child and is the son of an Israeli American.

At the same time, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon tried to quiet what he called the “noise” surrounding U.S.-Israel relations, which he says are the result of “not very well judiciously planned remarks from both sides.”  Haaretz reports on Ayalon’s Thursday event:

Appearing in New York before the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish organizations, Ayalon referred to statements that “may have been misconstrued as prodding the U.S. to take action against Iran” and described them as “totally wrong.” He said that Jerusalem and Washington “see eye to eye on Iran” and that this understanding is greater than “statements that may have been amplified by the media.”

Ayalon also said that he “wished to set the record straight” in case “there was any misreading” of Israel’s intentions concerning the American elections, saying that it is the official Israeli policy “to stay as far away as possible” from internal American politics. He said that Israel cherishes bipartisan American support and “makes no distinctions” between Democrats and Republicans.

“Israel has no better friend than the U.S. and no better friend than President Obama in the international community,” Ayalon said.

Just to make sure nobody missed it, Ayalon repeated that last line – in Hebrew - in a Friday morning interview with Israel’s Army Radio (Galei Zahal).

Further challenging Netanyahu’s effort to counter the impression he is taking sides in American politics, a new ad from Secure America Now, a pro-Romney group, features none other than the Israeli prime minister. The spot – which Politico reports is running in Florida – includes a Netanyahu statement that was widely viewed as a swipe against the Obama administration:

“As Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs. The world tells Israel to wait, there’s still time. And I say, wait for what? Wait until when?”

Though both Netanyahu and Obama will be attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York next week, Obama turned down an offer from Netanyahu to meet on the sidelines. In Israel they’re calling it a snub. The White House denies any Netanyahu request to meet was turned down.

Here is the Secure America Now ad via Politico:

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