Following the TIME profile, David Margolick profiles Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the Vanity Fair Magazine. The last time Margolick profiled Bibi, was in 1996.
"It is the paradox of Israel that in Benjamin Netanyahu, 62 years old, now entering his seventh year in office, the country has both its strongest and its weakest leader in memory—and, as things now look, will have both sides of him for many years to come.
"As of early May, when his coalition suddenly and surprisingly swallowed up the largest opposition party, Kadima, Netanyahu now controls 94 of the 120 seats in the Knesset. An Iranian atom bomb may be some time off, but as Yossi Verter writing in Israel’s liberal daily, Haaretz, put it, an atom bomb has fallen on Israeli politics. Until elections in the fall of 2013, Netanyahu can now do pretty much what he wants. The question is just what that is, and whether even he knows, for he’s proven better at holding power than wielding it."~ David Margolick writes in the intro.
*The Tale of Two Bibi's
First, there’s Bibi the statesman, the Israeli Churchill, seeking immortality, versus Bibi the politician, seeking survival. Then there’s the American Bibi versus the Israeli Bibi. The American Bibi is articulate, confident, charismatic. He spoke before a rapturous joint session of Congress last year; had he read from the Tel Aviv telephone book, Senator Joseph Lieberman said afterward, he’d still have gotten all those standing ovations. (In fact, there seemed to be no sitting ovations.) He also appeared at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or aipac, this past March, where the adulation was something Soviet émigrés in Israel would have recognized—reminiscent of the Politburo, or Pavlov: 13,000 people, all conveniently out of harm’s way, cheering as one for war against Iran. The American Bibi appeals not only to American Jews; in fact, evangelical Christians like him even more, and certainly far more uncritically. Visiting Jerusalem in March, Pastor James Hagee, of Christians United for Israel, compared him to Moses, King David, and, not entirely facetiously, even to the Messiah.
The Israeli Bibi, by contrast, can be accident-prone, panicky, deceptive, disloyal, and, as his own father—who found frequent fault with him—noted, indecisive. He governs by improvisation, picks people poorly, goes through them fast. And he’s suggestible: an inordinate number of people say he tends to agree with the last person he has met. Sometimes that’s Sheldon Adelson; critics charge that Netanyahu has subcontracted aspects of his foreign policy to the American billionaire, who implacably opposes a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Or it’s Ehud Barak, who, seeking to relive his past military glories and redeem his disastrous political career, is, critics charge, exploiting his unique hold on Netanyahu.
Netanyahu insists his relationship with Obama is friendlier than it has been portrayed. They are, he tells me, “two people who appreciate the savviness and strength of the other.”
Romney, Netanyahu suggests, may have overstated the tie. “I remember him for sure, but I don’t think we had any particular connections,” he tells me. “I knew him and he knew me, I suppose.”
"No one would be happier to see [the situation in Iran] resolved by sanctions or peaceful means.” He declines to speculate why so many prominent security officials—former heads of Mossad and Israeli Defense Forces among them—think he’s exaggerated the threat. But one charge clearly infuriates him: that Barak, a hugely unpopular figure in Israel whom Netanyahu has rescued from political oblivion, is driving him. “Oh, totally!” he scoffs. “He spins me on his little finger.”
“People said I was a dinosaur because I asked some questions about the Arab Spring. This is really going to be a shocker, but the region is a god-awful mess.”
“I’m not naturally manipulative, I’m not a natural politician. I’m not consumed with political machinations. I’m not a glad-hander, I’m not a backslapper, but I’m not [this] icy presence. My voters don’t relate that way to me. They relate very warmly to me. It’s not that there are ‘two Bibis.’ There are those who relate to me, who believe in me, and those who don’t, and there are more of the former or I wouldn’t be where I am.”
Still, “As you know, I’m humorless, friendless, controlled by my father’s hidden strings,” he volunteers. “And I’m twirling on Barak’s fingers.”
“I suppose that if it doesn’t lambaste me, if it’s not tendentious and hostile, it’s obviously tremendously biased,” he says of Israel Hayom. Adelson has no power over his decisions, Netanyahu says; the two disagree all the time. “My level of intervention in the press, trying to control stories, is zero,” he says. “Subzero.”