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Despite the derision, it is unlikely the decision to avoid a potentially bloody land invasion of the densely populated Gaza Strip will cost Netanyahu the forthcoming election.
No opposition leader in the race comes close to Netanyahu in terms of experience or international stature, and Israel’s biggest perceived security threat is still far from resolved – Iran and its contested nuclear programme.
IRAN IN FOCUS
Israel and its Western allies believe Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, but Netanyahu says it is an existential issue for Israel and has promised to resolve the matter if he is elected to a third turn in office.
Known universally in Israel by his childhood nickname ‘Bibi’, Netanyahu has been so focused on Iran that critics at home said he had lost sight of the more immediate problem – rising rocket fire out of Gaza and into southern Israel.
The Israeli military said Islamist militants had launched more than 700 missiles from Gaza in the first 10 months of the year. With elections looming, Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak could not ignore the problem any longer.
The warplanes were sent in, killing Hamas’s top military commander in an initial strike and targeting the group’s large weapons arsenal thereafter. Some 162 Palestinians, including 37 children, and five Israelis died in the clashes.
“Both Netanyahu and Barak would have preferred not to go on this operation and only did so when the public made clear that enough was enough,” said Einat Wilf, who sits on the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee and is a member of Barak’s Atzmaut party.
While Barak donned his black bomber jacket and toured the Gaza border lands to see the huge army mobilisation being readied for eventual invasion, Netanyahu stayed in his business suit and avoided eye-catching photo calls near the front line.