Netanyahu knows that his leverage over the White House grows each day the US gets closer to election day. The day after election day it drops precipitously. That’s a volatile and dangerous set of circumstances. Netanyahu seems to be threatening to start meddling in the US elections if Obama doesn’t come to his position. Or rather, he is meddling and threatening more. Or, more worrisomely, he’s fixing to launch an attack now while he figures the election will constrain Obama’s options as much as possible.
John has already addressed the issue of Israeli meddling in our domestic politics somewhat, but I wanted a add a few points, riffing off Josh’s piece:
(1) The idea that Natayahu’s leverage increases until election day and then drops thereafter is, I think, an oversimplification. What is true is that the more Natanyahu tries to exert leverage before election day, the less leverage he’ll have after assuming an Obama victory. Bibi is essentially gambling that he can swing the election over the Iran issue. This strikes me as a reckless gamble from Israel’s perspective, since Obama is currently leading and as the incumbent he probably benefits marginally from foreign policy being more central to the election.
(2) Obama also has high approval numbers on foreign policy than does Romney, which is not surprising because Romney is personally ignorant of foreign policy, and he’s surrounded himself with second rate folks as advisers.
(3) The notion that Israel will launch a unilateral attack on Iran is almost surely a bluff. It is not clear how they would do it, and no analysis I’ve seen suggests that can launch an effective attack by themselves. Natanyahu may be reckless, but Israel is, in the end, a democracy, and there are checks and balances as well as various civil-military constraints on action.
So while the Obama team may not be eager to get into a pissing match with Natanyahu over Iran in the weeks before the election, there isn’t any “reason to fear” that this situation will transform the election. If anything, Obama’s steady foreign policy hand would be a plus when compared to the desperate rants we’re likely to get from the Romney camp.
That said, remember how the right-wingers got crazy about how “Chinese money” had been used to affect the 1996 election? We had a DoJ investigation and Congressional investigations.
But somehow now, when a foreign power is openly and unambiguously trying to intervene in domestic politics, all we get is crickets. I’m not saying Obama should pick this fight himself, but it would be nice if someone with some visibility would come out and explicitly condemn Israeli meddling in American domestic politics.