Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has downplayed concerns Israel is increasingly becoming a partisan issue in the United States, arguing that in the past the Jewish state was almost exclusively supported by Democrats.
“When I studied in the US after I was released from the army, the support was mostly from the Democratic Party. You didn’t find lots of enthusiastic supporters of Israel among Republicans. That changed because America changed,” he told the Israel Hayom newspaper in an interview published Friday.
Though not ignoring opposition to Israel in the US, Netanyahu said there is little he can do to influence “the internal changes taking place” there.
“We need to maximize the hold on positions of support and block the points of opposition as much as possible,” he said.
While support for Israel remains high among Americans, there has been a growing convergence in recent years in the level of backing for the Jewish state by Republicans and Democrats. Part of the drop in support by the latter has come since Netanyahu’s return to office in 2009, with the premier having a notoriously frosty relationship with former US president Barack Obama. Netanyahu has also warmly embraced Obama’s Republican successor Donald Trump, who is widely unpopular among Democrats.
Netanyahu addressed his ties with Obama during the interview, including their tense exchange in the Oval Office in 2011, when the premier expounded at length on the Arab-Israeli conflict as the US president looked on coolly.
“I wouldn’t call that a confrontation, I call it the truth. I told the truth of our people,” Netanyahu said. “Afterward I heard it was described as defiance. I didn’t see it that way.”
The prime minister said though he and Obama had their differences — namely concerning the 2015 international deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program — they also cooperated, such as the record US military aid package agreed on in 2016.
“I really appreciate that,” he said.
Netanyahu also said that unlike other countries with which he has sought to developed closer ties with, the Israeli-US relationship was based not primarily on shared interests but “mostly shared values.”
Turning to Iran, Netanyahu said a new deal that would prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons would not require the toppling of the country’s regime.
“I won’t cry if the regime changes, but change can also come from within the regime, a change of policy,” he said. “Right now their policy is to quietly seek nuclear [weapons], while taking control of the Middle East with the money the sanctions relief [from the 2015 nuclear deal] pumped into the Iranian coffers.”
The prime minister was responding to a question on whether he supported regime change in Iran, or international negotiations to clinch an amended international deal curbing its nuclear program. “I support pressure that would do one of the two, it doesn’t really matter which, it can come from either of the two cases,” replied Netanyahu, who has been outspoken against the nuclear accord.
He also said Israel had been close to attacking Iranian nuclear facilities in the years leading up to the signing of the 2015 deal, and asserted that the belief among other countries it may do so led to the imposition of heavy sanctions on Tehran.
“We were very serious. This wasn’t a bluff,” he said.
Netanyahu went on to praise Trump for pulling out of the deal, which he said let up pressure on Iran without addressing its behavior in other fields.
“The answer is pressure, pressure and more pressure,” he said.