Barack Obama is a "true friend of Israel" who identifies emotionally not only with the state, but also with the people of Israel, a senior official in Jerusalem said Tuesday.
Referring to hints about Obama's Muslim connections, the senior figure told Ynet that "his last name, Hussein, is completely meaningless." Speaking on the historic day that saw America's first black president sworn in, Israeli officials stressed that they are familiar with the incoming president and with quite a few key figures in the new US Administration.
Obama vows new start with Muslims / Reuters
New president sworn in: Barack Obama says he will seek 'new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect' vis-à-vis Muslim world, warns terrorists that America will outlast, defeat them
"Our advantage is that we have become familiar with many of the new Administration's members during joint activity spreading over 10-15 years," a foreign ministry official said.
The sentiments expressed in conversations with Ynet reflect the view of Israel's political and security establishment, ranging from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Even those who can be expected to have concerns about Obama – including right-wing parties headed by Likud – say they view the new president as a friend.
However, far-right officials expressed some concerns about Obama, particularly in light of his intention to engage in dialogue with Iran.
In the past two years, Foreign Ministry officials have been working on the "Obama file" in an effort to decipher his views on key issues. Nonetheless, question marks remain, particularly in respect to the new president's positions on major issues such as the recent Gaza operation, the Iranian question, and the Syrian front.
"Those things will only become apparent after the first phases of the new Administration's entry into the White House," a political official said.
According to the latest assessments, Obama may contact the prime minister and top Israeli officials within his first days in office. The new president is seemingly in no rush, as he can wait for the formation of a new government in the wake of the upcoming Knesset elections. However, it appears that the burning issues, especially in the wake of the war in Gaza, do not leave Obama much choice.
To sum up the prevailing sentiments in Jerusalem at this time, a senior Foreign Ministry official said he was confident that Israel "was and will remain America's strategic and intimate partner during Obama's era."