Is Obama trying to upstage Romney on Israel?

President Obama signs the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012 in the Oval Office, July 27, 2012.
CBS News/Mark Knoller
President Obama signs the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012 in the Oval Office, July 27, 2012.
CBS News/Mark Knoller

(CBS News) On Friday morning, President Obama took to the Oval Office to sign the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012. The legislation expands U.S. financial and technological assistance to Israel in defending against missile attacks, provides the country with access to U.S. defense technology, and offers "increased opportunities" to train with U.S. troops.

In a fact sheet in conjunction with the signing, the White House proclaimed that "The President has galvanized the international community to put more pressure on the Iranian regime than ever before," " The President has stood with Israel in times of crisis," and "The President has forcefully opposed unbalanced and biased actions against Israel in the Security Council, the UN General Assembly, and across the UN system."

While signing the bill, meanwhile, Mr. Obama both promised additional spending to support Israel's Iron Dome missile defense program and mentioned the United States' "unshakeable" ties to Israel. Twice.

(Obama signs U.S.-Israel cooperation bill on Friday.)

"What this legislation does is bring together all the outstanding cooperation that we have seen, really, at an unprecedented level between our two countries that underscore our unshakeable commitment to Israel security," he said.

It was hard to not to take note of the timing of the bill signing and associated pro-Israel rhetoric. It came just one day before a trip to Israel by Mitt Romney that appears designed to bolster the presumptive Republican presidential nominee with Jewish voters at home. While a recent Gallup poll shows Mr. Obama leading Romney 64 percent to 29 percent among Jewish voters, the president's support appears to be down: In the 2008 election, he won the support of 78 percent of Jewish voters.

Romney hopes to win over Jews concerned about Mr. Obama's strained relationship with Israel and its leader Benjamin Netanyahu, which exploded into public view in 2011. That's when Netanyahu said that the president's position on the borders for a potential Palestinian state was "indefensible."

On Israel, Romney sees opening against Obama

"Israel deserves much better treatment than it has gotten during the Obama presidency," Romney said in an interview with the Hebrew newspaper Israel Hayom, which was conducted before Romney went abroad. "You are our true friends. You are our ally. You share common values with us. You didn't deserve to have President Obama criticize you in front of the United Nations to the cheers of enemy nations. With me as president, that won't happen." (The interview was translated from Hebrew by CBS News.)

"If I am president, and there are misunderstandings between my administration and Israel - I will not talk about them in a public and insulting way," Romney, who plans to meet with Netanyahu in Israel, added in the interview. Israel Hayom is a free newspaper distributed in Jerusalem that is owned by Sheldon Adelson, who has spent $10 million to support Romney's presidential bid; he has said he is willing to spend in excess of $100 million to defeat Mr. Obama. Adelson and the Republican Jewish Coalition have reportedly committed $6.5 million to move Jewish voters in swing states into the Republican column. (Jews make up roughly two percent of the U.S. population.) 

(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses Romney's trip on the latest edition of "Face the Nation.")

Romney also sat down for an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz. He declined to criticize Mr. Obama because the conversation (in London) took place on foreign shores, and the interview was relatively uncontroversial. The introduction, however, was brutal: Romney was described as " even more focused on what he is not allowed to say than on what he is about to say."

"Although Romney sees himself as the next Ronald Reagan, who has come to save his homeland from the hands of a failed Jimmy Carter, he lacks Reagan's passion," wrote the interviewer from Haaretz, a left-leaning newspaper with a strong English language presence online. "Nor does he have Reagan's maturity and sense of mission. The former governor of Massachusetts is an intelligent, professional and good-hearted businessman, but he lacks charisma. If a fire is burning in his bones, he hides it well."

That's the sort of take that warms the heart of an Obama team that seems to be at least somewhat worried about losing Jewish votes to Romney. In his remarks on Friday morning, the president made clear that Mr. Romney is not alone in aligning closely with the Jewish state.

"I hope that, as I sign as this bill, once again everybody understands how committed all of us are -- Republicans and Democrats -- as Americans to our friends in making sure that Israel is safe and secure," he said.