Open Zion

01.22.13

What Was Netanyahu Thinking?

As Israel’s election results trickle in, showing Benjamin Netanyahu emerging weaker than before, I keep asking myself: What was he thinking?

Netanyahu clearly sees himself as the Winston Churchill to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s Adolf Hitler. (With Barack Obama perhaps making a cameo as Neville Chamberlain). To hear Bibi’s speeches over the past few years, you’d have thought it was five minutes to midnight every year. So what does he do? He holds an election that kicks the can down the road—and gives Tehran more time to build a nuke—which is exactly what he’s denounced the world for doing. I understand his desire to get himself ensconced for a few more years before a second-term Obama has time to undermine him. But why risk a quick election, whose outcome he could never fully foresee, when he’s so convinced History has anointed him the man to act in this moment? It undermines everything he’s said about the gravity of the moment. And even more remarkably, Iran wasn’t even a dominant issue in the campaign.

So now the election has gone more poorly than expected, which means he’ll almost certainly still be the prime minister, but a weaker one. Which means he has less capacity to take military action against Iran, or to pressure Obama to do so.

I’m not a fan of Bibi’s Iran apocalypticism but it at least seemed to be rooted in genuine ideological conviction. And yet he put it at risk just to buy him some political protection against Obama. Doesn’t seem very Churchillian to me.