Netanyahu Runs as Israel's Strong Man

Reelection Rests on Simple Message to Electorate

Strong Man: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is campaigning hard on a simple message of strength.
Strong Man: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is campaigning hard on a simple message of strength.

By Reuters

Published January 14, 2013.
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“He has no strong core, no tough kernel about which you can say, ‘Know what? In an extreme situation, in a crisis situation, I can follow him. I can trust him,’” Yuval Diskin, who retired as Shin Bet chief in 2011, told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily in a front-page interview published on Jan. 4.

Although opinion polls show most Israelis trust Netanyahu’s handling of security issues, Diskin is not the only senior official to express doubts about his character. That in turn reflects the fact that despite serving as Israeli prime minister longer than anyone bar founding father David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu remains something of a conundrum.

While his rhetoric can make him sound brash and bullying, he has often proved circumspect and contradictory. Although he has promised reform, he has frequently clung to the status quo, both in domestic and foreign affairs.

The most American of all Israeli premiers, he has arguably presided over the worst relations with a U.S. president, due in part to disagreements over how to handle Iran.

“CULT OF DEATH”

While Netanyahu’s motives and method can be questioned, few doubt that his concerns about Iran are genuine.

“Netanyahu’s raison d’etre is to save Israel from Iran. That is it. That is his mission in the most profound sense. I have seen it up close,” said Naftali Bennett, his chief of staff from 2006 to 2008 who quit the prime minister’s rightist political grouping and pitched his tent in the national-religious camp.

“Everything else is subject and subordinate to Iran. That is potentially an alibi for why he has not made any bold moves during his premiership and just minded the shop,” added Bennett, whose party may well be in the next coalition government.

Known universally in Israel by his childhood nickname ‘Bibi’, Netanyahu works out of a nondescript Jerusalem building, about as far removed from other seats of power, such as the White House or Elysee Palace, as you could hope to find.

The first thing you notice when you enter his small office is a large map of the Middle East, with Israel set to the side and Iran dominating much of the document.


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