(Page 2 of 3)
“These are issues that are bigger than personal matters, so there’s no doubt the United States and Israel will find a way to work together,” said Josh Block, president of The Israel Project, a leading U.S. pro-Israel group.
Obama wants more time for sanctions and diplomacy to work against Iran - which denies it is seeking nuclear weapons - but he has made clear military action is “on the table” if all else fails.
Netanyahu - who vowed on election night to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons - has insisted he will stick to the red line laid down in September, when he told the United Nations that Tehran should not have enough enriched uranium to make even a single warhead. He gave a rough deadline of summer 2013.
But the tepid performance of Netanyahu’s rightist bloc at the polls, while enough to keep the prime ministership in his hands, makes it harder for him to claim a clear mandate for his hardline strategy on Iran. His Likud party and its ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu ally took only 31 of parliament’s 120 seats, a loss of 11 seats.
On top of that, a more centrist coalition - with partners apparently more focused on bread-and-butter domestic issues - might tie Netanyahu’s hands on national security matters.
Obama made no mention of Iran or Middle East peacemaking in his inaugural address on Monday, a sharp contrast to four years earlier when those issues figured heavily in his speech.
But a source with knowledge of White House thinking said the omission should not be interpreted to mean those matters are low on Obama’s second-term priorities list.
Instead, the source said, Obama has learned from his first-term stumbles in Middle East diplomacy and has opted for a more low-key approach, at least until he has his new national security team in place.
His early efforts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace talks fell apart amid mutual acrimony in 2010, followed by accelerated Israeli housing construction in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem - land the Palestinians claim for a future state.
Obama was reluctant to pressure Netanyahu during the 2012 U.S. election campaign for fear of undercutting support among Jewish voters and other pro-Israel constituencies. Now that he no longer faces re-election constraints, he may be ready to take a tougher tack despite the likelihood of drawing fire from Republicans who have questioned his commitment to Israel.