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Israel's coming test for Obama

He must be alert to bullying by Israel's likely next prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

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President-elect Barack Obama could be surprised to discover that the first foreign policy challenge he faces may not come from traditional adversaries, such as Iran or Russia, but from a perceived friend, Israel.

If the Likud candidate for prime minister, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, wins February elections in Israel – and polls now heavily favor his party – Mr. Obama may find that this ally can be very prickly. Recall Jimmy Carter's difficulties with Menachem Begin and George H.W. Bush's troubles with Yitzhak Shamir. Early in his presidency, George W. Bush apparently decided the best way to get along with Israelis was to unashamedly accommodate Israel, regardless of collateral consequences to US foreign policy.

Mr. Netanyahu, who has already served a term as Israel's prime minister, has a history of political confrontation. He may decide to challenge Obama early on, as he did with Bill Clinton. Domestically, it would be easy because during the election, many Israelis viewed Obama skeptically, and still do. Some whispered that he was pro-Palestinian and pro-Arab.


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