Netanyahu: I'm Not Backing Romney

Israeli PM Netanyahu has assured White House he won't interfere in campaign.

September 21, 2012, 9:59 AM

Sept. 21, 2012 -- Despite close personal ties to Mitt Romney and recent comments suggesting he was unhappy with the Obama administration's Iran policy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly promised the Obama camp he has no plans to "interfere" with the campaign before Election Day.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Netanyahu sent his defense minister, Ehud Barak, to deliver a goodwill message to Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel on Thursday afternoon.

An aide to Israeli leader said "no comment" when questioned about nature of the meeting and a spokeswoman for Emanuel would only confirm that Barak met with the Chicago mayor Thursday afternoon.

This marks the second time in six days the Israeli leader has sought, either personally or through back channels -- Barak and Emanuel are friends -- to distance himself from the perception he is agitating for the president's defeat in November. Asked by Meet The Press moderator David Gregory on Sunday if he thought "Governor Mitt Romney as President Romney make Israel safer," Netanyahu demurred.

"I'm not going to be drawn into the American election. And what's guiding my statements is not the American political calendar, but the Iranian nuclear calendar," the Israeli leader replied. "I'm talking to [President Obama]. I just talked to him the other day. We are in close consultation. We're trying to prevent that. It's really not a partisan issue. It's a policy issue, not a partisan issue."

But it might also be a personal issue. Netanyahu and Romney have a relationship unlike any other in global politics.

The men have been friends for more than 35 years, first meeting at the Boston Consulting Group, where they worked as corporate business advisers during the Israeli leader's time living in the U.S. Netanyahu returned to Israel in the late 1970s and was soon pursuing political office. They never lost 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 when the Israeli prime minister turned up in yet another Pro-Romney Super PAC ad, it was only natural to ask: Was Netanyahu, his relationship with Obama always in varying degrees of distress, ready to formally endorse his old pal 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 article 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."

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