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Netanyahu blasts Obama administration ahead of election

Last week, I pointed out that Republicans and Democrats were both invoking Benjamin Netanyahu's statements to argue that the Israeli prime minister was on their side, even though Netanyahu himself has not explicitly expressed support for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in this year's election. That may still be true, but Netanyahu nevertheless issued a stinging criticism today of the Obama administration's refusal to set so-called "red lines" for Iran's nuclear program -- one that has major implications for the presidential race.

"Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel," the Israeli leader declared, in a clear reference to the United States. Here's the New York Times account of the comments:

Addressing reporters here in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu unequivocally rejected those comments and slapped back at the United States. Speaking in English, he said, "The world tells Israel: ‘Wait, there's still time.' And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?' Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don't have a moral right to place a red light before Israel."

In his remarks, made at a joint news conference with the visiting prime minister of Bulgaria, Boyko Borisov, Mr. Netanyahu also said: "Now if Iran knows that there is no red line, if Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it's doing. It's continuing, without any interference, toward obtaining nuclear weapons capability and from there, nuclear bombs."

He criticized the litany of economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union as ineffective in stopping the enrichment program. "The fact is that every day that passes, Iran gets closer and closer to nuclear bombs," Mr. Netanyahu said.

Some in Israel are interpreting Netanyahu's rhetoric as an implicit endorsement of Romney, who argued on Sunday that Obama's biggest foreign-policy mistake was failing to halt Iran's nuclear program. "It's not every day that the prime minister of an isolated Israel issues what amounts to an ultimatum to his most dependable, most indispensible ally," Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston wrote today. "It's not every day that an Israeli prime minister who by geopolitical necessity must be scrupulously neutral in an American presidential race, tailors his moves to the campaign of one party at the expense of the other." Burston continues:

In recent days, however, there's been a certain air of desperation in the ways Netanyahu has continued to pursue this policy. The desperation has grown in the face of the opposition of growing and already large numbers of respected current and former Israeli security, nuclear, diplomatic and intelligence experts to any attack on Iran at this time, and more pointedly, against a unilateral Israeli offensive.

And, in particular, when Barack Obama's campaign appears to be surging.

If immediate red lines are in order, Benjamin Netanyahu would be well advised to set them for himself, and the malice and abuse and disrespect he has heaped on the president....

If for no other reason than Netanyahu's preference for public pronouncements rather than back-channel cooperation with Washington, plays directly into the hands of Iran, and increases the potential dangers to Israel.

Or, if for no other reason, than the fact that Israeli officials are beginning to discuss the specifics of a threat that the prime minister's office has only discussed in vague whispers until now: Payback.

Simply put, what price will Netanyahu be made to pay, should Barack Obama win on November 6?

At a conference in Israel on Tuesday, Shaul Mofaz, the leader of Israel's Kadima Party, argued that Netanyahu wouldn't let U.S.-Israeli relations deteriorate to that point.

"We won't see military action against Iran in 2012; there's still time," he asserted. "There is no need for us to sacrifice the most important strategic partnership we have over the Iranian issue. It's up to Netanyahu to defeat [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, not Obama." Haaretz is already reporting, however, that the White House has declined Netanyahu's request to meet with Obama at a U.N. conference in New York at the end of September (Netanyahu will meet with other U.S. officials). That's not a good sign for the bilateral relationship. 

I've noted before that an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities could swiftly swing an election that, barring a major world event, should revolve around the economy. Watch this space.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

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Protesters storm U.S. Embassy in Cairo

A number of old political traumas are colliding in Cairo tonight. On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Salafist protesters broke into the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and tore down the American flag outside, replacing it with the black flag similar to the one used by al Qaeda groups. Video of the protesters tearing the American flag to shreds swiftly spread across the Internet.

It's hard to watch that video, today of all days, without thinking of the deep-rooted anti-Americanism that proved fertile soil for the terror attacks 11 years ago. It also evokes memories of the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran -- the last great popular revolt in the Middle East, which also crescendoed in a spasm of anti-U.S. demagoguery.

The Salafist protesters appear to be spurred on by a television program condemning an American film that reportedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad. A clip of the film played on the program opens with a man pointing to a goat and saying, "This is the first Muslim animal!"

According to an article in the Egyptian daily Youm7 (which is not always accurate, so caveat emptor), the film is called "Muhammad, Prophet of the Muslims" and was produced by infamous Quran-burning preacher Terry Jones, in collaboration with a group of Egyptian Copts.

Here in Egypt, the question is why security was so light as to allow the demonstrators to storm the embassy so easily -- and what the Muslim Brotherhood will do next. While Egypt's most powerful party did not instigate the protest, Cairo is waiting with bated breath to see whether it will disavow the efforts of its fellow Islamists. If not, America's old traumas may soon be coming back with a vengeance.