Netanyahu casts himself as player on a world stage

Right-winger calls for destruction of Hamas in defence of democracy

At any other time there would be nothing notable about Benjamin Netanyahu reminding everyone that he thinks that "at the end of the day" there is "no alternative" but to "bring down" Hamas. But at a time when the ostensible aims of the war Israel has waged for 18 days have fallen rather short of that, it can hardly fail to have an impact. The leader of the right-wing opposition party Likud, and the man the polls predict could become prime minister in less than a month's time chose to do it, moreover, during a fluent session with foreign journalists in which – for much of the time at least – he cast himself as a statesman comfortable on the global stage and determined to remain above party politics at a time of war.

He said he was looking forward, if elected, to working with Senator Hillary Clinton as US Secretary of State, without the slightest hint of the friction that existed between him and her husband, President Bill Clinton, when the Likud leader was prime minister in the Nineties.

Justifying a vote by a Knesset committee this week to ban two Arab parties from contesting the elections, he smoothly quoted a remark by the rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza that "democracy allows all the freedoms except the freedom to destroy democracy". And even at his most bellicose, he eschewed the rhetoric his main rival, Tzipi Livni, has unashamedly used about Israel "going wild". Instead he declared at one point of the many hundreds of Palestinian casualties: "We grieve for every one of them; we genuinely do," before adding, inevitably: "But a responsible government does not give immunity to criminal terrorists who fire at us while using civilians as a human shield."

But this is not the whole story. Mr Netanyahu was aiming yesterday at an overseas audience. Indeed he spoke explicitly about the need to start "rolling back" the attacks from abroad on Israel's conduct of the war – attacks which he said have a "dual feature". One is "that they distort the truth and the second is that they distort morality. It is not true that Israel is targeting civilians. It does everything in its power to minimise civilian casualties but these are inevitable in a war in which the terrorists embed themselves in the civilian population... what would you do if your country was rocketed for a full eight years with thousands of rockets?"

He knows that he does not have to convince the large majority of Israelis still undeterred from their support for the war by a Palestinian death toll in Gaza which could, after only two and a half weeks, overtake the one incurred in Lebanon in five weeks in 2006, and included by Monday night 292 boys and girls under 18, and 75 women. And fully accepting of the military's explanation reported in the Israeli press that it has put its own soldiers' safety first and that of Palestinian civilians second. For an Israeli audience, Mr Netanyahu's task is to retain his appeal to just that supportive majority when – unlike two of his political rivals, Ms Livni and Ehud Barak, the Defence Minister – he is not actually running the war most of them so approve of.

But the long shadow of his own popularity, as the leading politician who has most consistently advocated the removal of Hamas, certainly hangs over this bloody campaign. For now he is choosing his words carefully, saying that Israel must achieve over Hamas "a victory which will cripple its capability to perpetrate terrorist attacks against us and restore deterrence throughout the region. It must stop the smuggling corridors that enable Hamas to smuggle thousands of rockets into Gaza... The government has had and will continue to have my support to achieve this objective. I also said that Hamas, a terror organisation that is committed to our destruction, must ultimately be removed from Gaza. Should the government decide to seek that objective, it will also have our support."

Which leaves, as Ms Livni, Mr Barak and Ehud Olmert, the outgoing Prime Minister, know only too well, plenty of room in the interval – assuming there is one – between the end of the war and the election to criticise the basis on which it ends if it fails to meet his requirements, and to take some of the credit if it does. Towards the end of his news conference yesterday, he was asked if he thought the government might not have embarked on the operation if he hadn't been advocating it from an electorally threatening position. "I haven't any idea," he said crisply. It was a reply that strictly adhered to the ban on electioneering imposed during Operation Cast Lead. But it was hardly a denial.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / Analyst (CIMA finalist/newly qualified)

£32000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant / F...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - .NET

£27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of a mark...

Recruitment Genius: Help Desk Specialist

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides Reliabili...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Managing Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor