Even some of his bitter enemies would now have to concede that Benjamin Netanyahu is a giant on the Israeli political scene. The results of Israel’s elections mean that the Likud leader is now likely to serve a record fourth term as prime minister, making him his country’s longest-serving prime minister ever. More than ever, “Bibi” is now confirmed as the international face of Israel. Read more
Israel’s knife edge general election
Isaac Herzog’s centre left Zionist Union has overtaken Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in the polls, signalling that Israel’s electorate, which appeared to be veering ever more to the right in recent years with security concerns taking priority, are tilting to the left on the back of economic concerns.
By Gideon Rachman
Just before Alexis Tsipras was elected Greek prime minister in January, he made a vow to the voters: “On Monday national humiliation will be over. We will finish with orders from abroad.”
Benjamin Netanyahu is making his third appearance before a joint meeting of the US Congress on Tuesday morning in Washington.
In what is set to be a very controversial speech, he is expected to highlight what the Israeli leader insists are the risks of a nuclear deal with Iran
By Mark Odell and Sam Jones, Defence and Security Editor, and Siona Jenkins, Middle East and Africa news editor
When Benjamin Netanyahu rises to speak in Congress later on Tuesday he will become the first foreign leader since Winston Churchill to speak before Congress three times. John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, apparently intends to mark the occasion by presenting the Israeli prime minister, with a bust of Churchill.
Mr Netanyahu is probably vain enough to think that the comparison is appropriate. The Israeli prime minister believes that, like Churchill in the 1930s, he is a voice in the wilderness warning a complacent world against a “gathering storm” – in this case, an ambitious Iran that is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
But all politicians should be wary of comparing themselves with Churchill. George W Bush was also presented with a bust of Churchill, by the British government, which he kept in the Oval Office during the Iraq war. That didn’t work out too well. Beyond the threat of vainglorious self-delusion, the Netanyahu-Churchill comparison is dangerous for the Israeli leader himself, for a couple of reasons. Read more
Just as talks between Iran and world powers to nail down a deal restricting Tehran’s nuclear programme enter a decisive phase, the Islamic Republic last week put on a show. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) placed a mock-up of a US aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, and then blew it out of the water. For the IRGC, praetorian guard of the Shia theocracy, it would not do to show flabby muscle tone at this juncture, to the US or its Gulf Arab neighbours.
In Washington, meanwhile, another form of triumphalism is on display. Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, is tomorrow due to address the US Congress – at the invitation of its Republican leadership – and is expected to say that the nuclear deal under discussion amounts to capitulation to Iran and will allow it to build an atomic bomb. As well as a brazen electoral stunt before Israel goes to the polls on March 17, this is a calculated snub to President Barack Obama. Mr Netanyahu is flaunting his ability to go around the White House to Congress, where ordinarily he enjoys the near unanimous support he could only dream of in the Knesset at home. Read more
Vladimir Putin with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban
In the West, Vladimir Putin is often viewed as something of an international pariah. Shift your perspective, however, and it is quite striking how many international friends, the Russian president has cultivated.
Mr Putin, who enjoys posing bare-chested, is particularly good at making friends with other “strongmen”. His roster of special friends include Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa. This week, Mr Putin has also been demonstrating that he is capable of finding pals even inside the “enemy camp” – the European Union. The EU may have imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, but that has not stopped Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary – and another self-styled strongman – from rolling out the red carpet for Mr Putin. Read more
Benjamin Netanyahu with his wife Sara, May 2014.
Did she or didn’t she? Israel’s chattering classes have been distracted this week by claims that Sara Netanyahu, wife of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pocketed thousands of dollars collected from the return of drinks bottles from their official residence over several years. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
When last week I saw a White House spokesman say that Israel’s bombing of a UN school was “totally indefensible”, I briefly thought that I had witnessed something new. Surely the Americans had never before been that strong in condemning Israel? But a colleague with a longer memory reminded me that Israel’s siege of west Beirut in 1982 had provoked President Ronald Reagan (yes, Reagan) to telephone Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister, and accuse him of perpetrating a “holocaust”. There is nothing new about Israeli military action killing hundreds of civilians. There is also nothing new about the international outcry it provokes.
Israel set itself clear goals when it launched its assault on Gaza. Stop the rocket fire into Israel and close the tunnels that might allow Hamas to infiltrate fighters into Israel. Some 18 days into the offensive, and these goals have not yet been achieved. But that is not the only sign that Israel’s Gaza offensive is going wrong. On the contrary, there are multiple signs that Israel is losing control of the situation: Read more