Dems' Wins in U.S. Races Concern Israel

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

New York Times

November 9, 2006

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israelis are worried the Democratic power swing in Washington curbing President Bush's power will lead to less decisive action on Iran's nuclear ambitions, which they consider an imminent threat.

Still, Israelis interviewed Wednesday said they don't think the U.S. election results -- giving Democrats control of the House and erasing the Republicans' Senate majority -- will diminish American support for Israel.

Bush is popular among Israelis for aggressive policies toward Islamic extremism and his steadfast support for Israel, even as much of the world criticizes the Jewish state for its policies toward the Palestinians.

Most Israelis also see Bush as a strong ally against Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has said repeatedly that Israel should be destroyed. Israel sees itself as the primary target of a nuclear-armed Iran.

''Most Israelis understand that the Israeli interests, at this point, rest on future decisive statesmanship and decisive action in relation to the nuclear threat of Iran,'' said Menahem Blondheim of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

''Without the political support at home and in his party and among the American public, a decisive military or diplomatic move (by Bush) against Iran seems less and less likely,'' he said.

Blondheim said the Democrats may open the door wider for European nations, which many Israelis see as pro-Arab, to engage in Middle East diplomacy.

''Some Israelis are worried about the notion that the Democrats tend to be oriented toward multilateral diplomacy. For many Israelis, having European powers and other countries join the Middle Eastern conflict is bad news,'' he said.

Jacob Kay, a Web designer in Jerusalem, said he expected a Democratic majority to be less attuned to Israeli interests.

''If the House has gone Democrat, obviously that's worse for Israel because the supporters of Israel and freedom in the Middle East tend to be Republicans,'' said Kay, who said he was worried about any relaxation in America's policy toward Iran.

Still, many Israelis were not overly concerned.

''I think support for Israel is quite entrenched, and Israelis should not fear any deterioration in Israeli-American relations,'' said Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. ''We have a long history. We shouldn't panic.''

Rami Bengur, 58, who owns a video store in Jerusalem, agreed.

''I believe in the Democratic Party or the Republican Party -- they're both from a democracy,'' he said. ''This country is very important for them. From my point of view, they will do anything to protect Israel, no matter which party.''

Others said it was too early to judge the elections' ramifications for Israel.

Political Analyst Yossi Alpher said he thinks there will be changes in the president's agenda, but that does not necessarily translate to a dramatic swing in policy over Iran. The first issue on the table, he said, will be the war in Iraq.

''I'm not sure that it will change the U.S. policy, it depends on the Cabinet,'' said Menashe Dan, a 32-year-old baker. ''I think there will be a change of the foreign affairs, but I'm not sure what it's going to be -- only time will tell.''