Netanyahu conundrum faces Iranian riddle

Mon Jan 14, 2013 7:24am EST
 
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By Crispian Balmer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a simple message as he seeks a third term in office - he is a strong man and a vote for him at parliamentary elections on January 22 means Israel will be a powerful nation.

The Hebrew word for strong, "hazak", peppers the television adverts of his right-wing Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party like a compulsive mantra and is smeared across the blue-and-white campaign posters that dominate billboards around the country.

Robust leadership is vital, Netanyahu says, to deal with his generation's biggest challenge - not the decades-old conflict with the Palestinians, but fears that Iran is bent on building an atomic bomb that could one day target the Jewish state.

"My priority, if I'm elected for a next term as prime minister, will be first to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons," Netanyahu told a delegation of U.S. senators who visited him in Jerusalem on January 11.

Iran denies that its nuclear programme is aimed at making bombs and says Israel, widely assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, is the region's greatest menace.

Recent opinion polls suggest that Netanyahu will indeed be re-elected at the head of a coalition government. This means the Iranian issue, which has largely lain dormant since before the U.S. presidential election in November, will return to the fore.

In the diplomatic battle over Iran, Netanyahu, 63, portrays himself as an uncompromising tough guy, a former commando turned conservative hardliner, who will go it alone against Tehran if necessary to thwart what he sees as an existential threat.

But just how strong is he? Not very if you are to believe the previous head of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence agency, who has launched an astonishing pre-election attack on his former boss, accusing him of being weak and wavering.   Continued...

 
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference in the coastal city of Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, in this January 13, 2013 file photo. Netanyahu has a simple message as he seeks a third term in office - he is a strong man and a vote for him at parliamentary elections on January 22 means Israel will be a powerful nation. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/Files