Israel Worried About Effect of Obama Win on U.S. Ties With Iran

Israeli officials concerned an Obama administration will take much softer line than outgoing Bush team.

Israel is worried about what the outcome of America's presidential election may portend for Washington's policy on Iran.

On most Israel-related issues, Jerusalem foresees no dramatic changes in U.S. policy, regardless of who is elected. On Iran, however, it is worried that Democratic candidate Barack Obama will take a significantly softer line than the outgoing administration has. During his campaign, Obama repeatedly said that if elected, he would begin a dialogue with the Iranian regime.

Israel is also worried that U.S. President George W. Bush will use his final two months in office to open an interests section in Tehran - a move his administration has been discussing for months.

Over the last few weeks, Israel has sent high-level messages to Washington in which it expressed its objections to the proposal to open an interests sections. However, a senior Israeli government source said, Jerusalem still has no definite information about the plan.

"Most of what we know comes solely from fragments of information and hints," he said. "But the way things look at the moment, it seems as if they are going to open the interests section soon."

Israel began communicating with Obama's staff about the Iranian issue while the campaign was still ongoing. According to senior government sources, the main concern is that Obama will begin a dialogue with Iran without preconditions. Israel is seeking to ensure that its interests will be protected in any American-Iranian dialogue.

Overall, however, a Foreign Ministry assessment of the future of Israeli-American relations after the election remains optimistic.

"Whichever president is elected is not expected to make significant changes with regard to Israel," said the assessment, which was presented at a ministry-sponsored conference a few weeks ago. The document also noted that Israel has a "safety net" in the form of Congress and certain friendly executive agencies, which will help to balance any problematic presidential tilt.

In any case, the document pointed out, Israel is not going to be at the top of the new president's list of foreign policy priorities: Whoever is elected, his chief concerns will be Iraq, Afghanistan and the crisis in relations with Russia.

However, the ministry does consider it likely that the new president will appoint a special envoy for the Middle East peace process. If so, the key question is which track Washington will view as its priority - the negotiations with Syria or those with the Palestinians.

The ministry plans to open a special "war room" before dawn today to analyze the results of the presidential election. Staffers of the ministry's North American desk have been asked to submit position papers giving their preliminary analyses by 9 A.M. today, by which point most of the results should be in.