Category: US Politics / January 16, 2013 2:39 PM EST
Benjamin Netanyahu visited a military camp in southern Israel on Wednesday (January 16) as long-strained ties between the Israeli prime minister and Barack Obama sprang to the fore of Israel's election campaign after the U.S. president was quoted as criticising Netanyahu's character.
Less than a week before a Jan. 22 ballot that opinion polls predict the right-wing Netanyahu will win easily, Israeli media highlighted a U.S. commentator's column on Obama and questioned whether the Democratic president was trying to sway the vote.
"Obama said privately and repeatedly, 'Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are'," wrote Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg.
The president "seems to view the prime minister as a political coward, an essentially unchallenged leader who nevertheless is unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise", Goldberg said.
During his visit to an army base near Gaza, Netanyahu appeared to chide Obama, without mentioning the president or his reported remarks.
"I think everyone understands that only Israeli citizens will be the ones who determine who loyally represents the state of Israel's vital interests. In the past four years we have faced tremendous pressures. We were demanded to restrain pressure against Iran, to withdraw to the 1967 border lines, to divide Jerusalem, that we won't build in Jerusalem. We repelled those pressures and I shall continue to protect Israel's vital interests for the sake of the security of Israel's citizens," Netanyahu said.
Obama and Netanyahu have been at odds over Israel's settlement building in the occupied West Bank and heavy Israeli hints over possible military action against Iran's nuclear facilities.
The White House has not commented on the column's content.
Some Israeli commentators saw the column as payback for Netanyahu's perceived back-room lobbying on behalf of Republican Mitt Romney in his failed run against Obama in November's U.S. election. Netanyahu has denied any such meddling.