Theirs is a relationship unlike any other in global politics.
Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been friends for more than 35 years. The men first met while working as corporate business advisers at the Boston Consulting Group during the Israeli prime minister’s years living in the U.S.; then, over time, they would leave the private sector for lives in politics. Netanyahu returned to Israel in the late 1970s; Romney ran for Senate in the early 1990s (he lost to Ted Kennedy) and again, successfully, for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. But they were always in touch, discussing policy and, on occasion, swapping favors, like when Romney urged Bay State legislators to divert public pension money from businesses with ties to Iran.
So with the Israeli prime minister turning up in yet another Pro-Romney Super PAC ad, it was only natural to ask: Had Netanyahu, his relationship with President Obama always in varying degrees of distress, formally endorsed his old pal Mitt Romney for president?
The Romney campaign says no. “Governor Romney believes we must stand with our allies,” spokeswoman Andrea Saul told ABC News, “but he is not seeking the endorsement of foreign leaders.”
At least not formally. Despite their deep ties, the video, produced by the Secure American Now group, was made without the knowledge or approval of Netanyahu’s office, nor, per campaign finance laws, did the Romney campaign have any say in its content.
Punctuated with heavy, foreboding effects, the clip, taken from a Sept. 11, 2012, press conference, shows Netanyahu calling for a more aggressive tack in keeping nuclear weapons out of Iranian hands.
“The world needs American strength,” a narrator warns at the end. “Not apologies.”
Romney takes a similar tone in his own rhetoric. He told Face The Nation host Bob Schieffer in late June, “If I’m president, the Iranians will have no question but that I would be willing to take military action, if necessary, to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world.”
Despite proposed policies that are actually pretty much in line with those pursued by the Obama administration, there’s little doubt Romney is more popular with Israel’s foreign policy hawks, Netanyahu chief among them.
The two stood side-by-side during Romney’s visit to Israel on July 29, as Netanyahu called again for the threat of more serious, perhaps military intervention in Iran.
Romney responded in the affirmative, noting their “friendship which spans the years,” and telling the Israeli prime minister, “Your perspective with regards to Iran and its efforts to become a nuclear capable nation are one which I take with great seriousness. I look forward to chatting with you about further actions we can take to dissuade Iran from their nuclear folly.”
The release of secretly recorded tapes from a Romney fundraiser in Florida provided even more evidence of strong personal and political ties. Seeking to assuage donors’ concerns about campaign tactics and the staffers drawing them up, Romney rattled off his advisers’ bona fides.
“I have a very good team of extraordinarily experienced, highly successful consultants, a couple of people in particular who’ve done races around the world,” he said. “I mean, they work for ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu in his race. So they do these races and they see which ads work and which processes work best.”
There are, in fact, longstanding connections between Romney and Netanyahu’s closest consultants. Dan Senor, Romney’s most prominent foreign policy aide and a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion, reportedly worked with a top Netanyahu aide Ron Dermer to choreograph their July meeting.
Dermer, the American-born adviser to Netanyahu Tablet Magazine calls “the prime minister’s alter-ego” and credits with having “done more to shape Israel’s relationship with the United States, its Arab neighbors, and the Palestinians over the past few years than any man aside from the prime minister himself,” was the source for the July 2 New York Times that first revealed Romney’s plan to meet with the prime minister during his trip.
“He’s a strong friend of Israel and we’ll be happy to meet with him,” Dermer said. ”We value strong bipartisan support for Israel and we’re sure it will only deepen that.”