US President Barack Obama sent top political operatives to Israel in a move to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent elections, a Republican senator says.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio said on Tuesday that “[Obama’s] entire political machine, virtually, some of the top people in his political operation were in Israel, on the ground, trying to defeat Netanyahu, which is unprecedented.”
Obama “didn’t send anyone in any other country to try to influence the outcome of those elections,” said Rubio, a potential GOP contender in 2016 presidential election.
On Tuesday, Obama refused to acknowledge that any personal animosity existed between him and Netanyahu. “I have a very business-like relationship with the prime minister.”
Rubio said what the president is “saying is absurd in terms of it not being personal,” adding, “That sounds pretty personal to me.”
Netanyahu clinched a divisive victory in March 17 elections. His rightwing Likud party won 30 of the 120 seats in parliament, against 24 for rivals in the center-left Zionist Union.
According to a report published by the Times of Israel, the Obama administration was directly involved in efforts to remove Netanyahu from office.
The Times quoted an unnamed official as saying “it’s no secret” that the White House had attempted to influence the outcome of the Israeli elections.
According to the report, the US move was partially motivated by a desire for revenge over Netanyahu’s provocative speech before Congress earlier this month, in which the Israeli premier warned that the White House was negotiating “a very bad deal” with Iran.
Iran and the P5+1 are currently negotiating to reach a comprehensive agreement on the country’s nuclear program as a deadline slated for July 1 draws closer.
In his campaign, Netanyahu had also rejected the idea of an independent Palestinian state, which has been a key element of the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
Obama said that because of Netanyahu’s statements, Washington would reassess its ties with Israel, including the possibility of removing critical US diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations.
However, the US president later made it clear that the “assessment” would not include areas of security, intelligence sharing and military assistance.
Washington has vetoed numerous Security Council resolutions condemning Israel’s activities in the occupied West Bank.