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“This was deliberate. Netanyahu knew this would not end in the crushing defeat of Hamas because that wasn’t ever the goal. He wanted to pose as the responsible adult at the top of the pyramid,” said Washington Institute analyst Yaari.
This stance is likely to have helped ease relations with the leaders of both the United States and Egypt.
The Arab Spring that brought an Islamist government to power in Cairo has raised concerns in Israel, which signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.
Netanyahu has had famously testy ties with U.S. President Barack Obama and he was accused by some Democrats of trying to undermine Obama’s re-election bid.
Dire predictions in the media that Netanyahu would suffer payback did not materialise during the conflict, with Obama fully endorsing what he called Israel’s right to self-defence.
When Obama later said it was “preferable” to avoid an escalation, Netanyahu swiftly adopted the same language to show there was no daylight between the two leaders.
Likewise, his decision to rule out an invasion prevented a potentially disastrous diplomatic showdown with Cairo. Instead, he has got Egyptian backing as a guarantor of Hamas’s ceasefire.
“There was no decisive victory here, said Giora Eiland, a former National Security Adviser. “But the situation was managed in the right way and it was clear that Israel enjoyed certain international support.”
His lowkey handling of the conflict, peppered by regular meetings with key ministers, showed how Netanyahu has developed into a more consensual leader than in his first term in office from 1996 to 1999, when he lurched from one crisis to another.
“He is a policy wonk. He isn’t a natural politician,” said one of his close advisers, who declined to be named. “But he has come to realise that you need to listen to people and not just pretend. He has become a much more inclusive leader.”
If, as expected, he secures a third term in January at the head of another rightist coalition, Netanyahu will once more push Iran to the top of the international agenda, with Gaza returning to its old position as an annoying irritant.
“If the Iranian threat is not neutralised in some way, then that will determine his legacy more than anything else,” said the senior adviser.