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Backing tough talk, Netanyahu wages 1st war

10:14 AM, Nov 20, 2012   |    comments
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in his offices on Sunday in Jerusalem.(Photo: Israeli Government Press Office via Getty Images)
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JERUSALEM -- Throughout his long political career, Israel's prime minister has earned a reputation as a tough talker. An ardent hawk who wrote a book about how to defeat terrorism, Benjamin Netanyahu has previously threatened to attack Iran, topple Gaza's Hamas leaders and strike hard at Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

But only now, after seven years in power, he has finally pulled the trigger, unleashing an offensive to stop Gaza rocket salvos. The public and even his political opponents have all lined up behind him.

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Barring a fiasco involving heavy Israeli casualties, the operation should help Netanyahu coast to victory in the upcoming Israeli elections.

While his more dovish predecessors have carried out daring military operations in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and reportedly beyond, Netanyahu's reign has surprisingly been categorized by restraint. Just a month ago, in a speech before parliament, he boasted that as prime minister, he "didn't wage any unnecessary wars or any wars at all."

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The comments appeared to be a swipe at his predecessor, centrist Ehud Olmert, who launched two wars in his three years as prime minister between 2006 and 2009.

Despite his bellicose language, Netanyahu has proven to be a careful commander in chief, said political analyst Hanan Kristal.

"Olmert had a short fuse. He was a diplomatic dove and a military hawk, while Bibi is a diplomatic hawk, but he's not a military hawk," he said, using Netanyahu's nickname. "In the opposition, he's a populist. There's no war he doesn't support or encourage. But once he gets to power, he's cautious, he consults, he doesn't shoot from the hip."

For months, Netanyahu refrained from major retaliation against rocket attacks from Gaza against southern Israel. Kristal said he ultimately gave the order only after a public outcry and after making sure the top military brass supported the move.

Netanyahu claims he has never before had to act militarily, since his tough stance has deterred Israel's enemies from testing him. Moshe Arens, Netanyahu's onetime political mentor, said this time Hamas aggression toward Israel forced his hand.

"This wasn't his decision alone to make. It wasn't a matter of initiative, it was forced by reality," said Arens, a former defense minister and foreign minister. "He's a smart guy with lots of knowledge. He's seasoned and prepared to handle the situation."

Associated Press

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