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Israel eyes opportunities - cautiously

    Close to Bibi: Romney
    Close to Bibi: Romney

    Wworld leaders have been cold-calling Trump Tower in an attempt to get some minutes on the phone with the next president, but Israeli officials seem to have the opposite problem.

    Close ties between the right wing of Israeli politics and all levels of the Republican Party and the US right mean both Mr Trump's close advisers and the appointments he has made so far are well-connected in Israel.

    While this has led to exuberant reactions from Israeli politicians on the far right who are excited at the prospect of less pressure over settlement activity, more level-headed voices, especially around Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are counselling caution.

    Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman drew criticism from members of the Jewish Home Party last week when he said that Israel should strive to reach an agreement with the Trump administration on building only within the established "settlement blocs" and continue the de-facto freeze on building on isolated settlements. He was accused by his critics of veering leftwards, but it seems Mr Lieberman was merely echoing the view in the prime minister's office that at this point, it would be a mistake to assume the arrival of Mr Trump means Israel will have a carte blanche to build everywhere.

    Education Minister Naftali Bennett's meeting with members of Mr Trump's team in New York this week, in which he pushed his plan to annex sections of the West Bank, prompted Mr Netanyahu to issue a directive forbidding Israeli ministers from contacting the future US administration without permission from his office.

    The appointment of General Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser and Congressman Mike Pompeo as the next director of the CIA, both known for their hawkish views on Islam, has emboldened like-minded hardliners in Israel, but intelligence and diplomatic officials are clear that as far as security matters go, ties between the two countries are already as healthy as they have ever been.

    "What's important is not so much the actual figures in the top jobs," said one senior Israeli diplomat. "What is most important that we continue to reinforce the idea that Israel and America are key allies in the struggle against radical Islamic terror."

    Mr Netanyahu's aides have made it clear that he intends to influence the incoming administration's policy on his number one priority - Iran. This does not necessarily mean that the Israeli leadership believes Mr Trump will actually "roll back" the nuclear deal signed last year.

    Whatever was said during the campaign, there is little expectation that Mr Trump will have the time or ability to drastically change an agreement signed by seven nations. The hope is that since his administration will not be committed to the success of the deal, it will not hesitate to confront Iran on other issues, such as ballistic missile tests and its support for proxies throughout the region. It could also be much more determined to call out any Iranian attempt to skirt their responsibilities under the nuclear deal.

    The possibility that Mr Trump may pick former Republican presidential candidate and Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney as his secretary of state also has potential for the Israeli government. Mr Romney and Mr Netanyahu have a rapport going back four decades, beginning when both men were advisers at the Boston Consulting Group. They have remained in touch ever since, and Mr Romney has said: "We can speak almost in shorthand".

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