Netanyahu Takes A Lonely Stance Denouncing Iran
By Jodi Rudoren, NY Times, October 11, 2013
JERUSALEM—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, the son of a historian, often complains to his inner circle that “people have a historical memory that goes back to breakfast.”
But when Mr. Netanyahu has recently tried to focus the world on the Iranian nuclear program, using ancient texts, Holocaust history and a 2011 book by Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, he has sometimes come off sounding shrill. As six major world powers convene next week to negotiate on the nuclear issue with Iran’s new leadership, the Israeli leader risks seeming frozen in the past amid a shifting geopolitical landscape.
Increasingly alone abroad and at home, where he has lost several trusted aides and cabinet colleagues, Mr. Netanyahu has stubbornly argued that if people would just study the facts, they would surely side with him.
With a series of major speeches—three more are scheduled next week—and an energetic media blitz, Mr. Netanyahu, 63, has embarked on the public-diplomacy campaign of his career, trying to prevent what he worries will be “a bad deal” with Iran. Insisting on a complete halt to uranium enrichment and no easing of the economic sanctions he helped galvanize the world to impose on Iran, Mr. Netanyahu appears out of step with a growing Western consensus toward reaching a diplomatic deal that would require compromise.
But such isolation is hardly new to a man with few personal friends and little faith in allies, who shuns guests for Sabbath meals, who never misses a chance to declare Israel’s intention to defend itself, by itself.
"Netanyahu is most comfortable predicting disaster, scaring people into doing something," said Mitchell Barak, a Jerusalem political consultant who worked for him in the early 1990s and has watched him closely since. "The problem is now he’s lost momentum. His message is clear, his message is the same, the situation is the same, but everyone else’s perspective has changed."
Over the past year, Mr. Netanyahu and his wife, Sara—a psychologist whom many Israelis criticize for everything from her purported temper to her child-rearing methods—have withstood mini-scandals regarding their spending on vanilla and pistachio ice cream (about $2,800 a year), makeup and hairstyling ($18,000 in 2012) and the installation of a bed for a flight to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral ($140,000). The prime minister’s stance on Iran, his signature issue, though, is popular with the public.
If he seems a solo act on the world stage, Mr. Netanyahu is also increasingly a one-man show in Israel, doubling as his own foreign minister. Gone from his cabinet are several colleagues with security credentials whom he considered peers.
Iran has been Mr. Netanyahu’s priority—many say obsession—since 1996, when he warned of the nuclear threat in a speech to Congress shortly after becoming prime minister for the first time. During the next three years he revamped Israel’s intelligence agenda to focus on Tehran. As leader of Israel’s opposition from 2006 to 2009, he made it a personal mission to persuade American state pension funds to divest of Iranian holdings. And since returning to Israel’s premiership in 2009, he has led the charge for sanctions against Iran, in part by threatening a unilateral military strike.
Critics and admirers alike say it is a Messianic crusade. Mr. Netanyahu is not religious, but he does see himself as a leader of destiny.
"We’re here for a purpose—I’m here for a purpose," he said Thursday night. "Which is to defend the future of the Jewish people, which means to defend the Jewish state. Defending it from a nuclear Iran.
"I’m not going to let that happen," he added. "It’s not going to happen."