I was lucky enough to be present at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting at Policy Exchange in London on Thursday (7 June). He was interviewed by William Shawcross. You can see the video and a transcript here.
On July 17 2019 Bibi will become the longest serving Israel PM ever, beating David Ben Gurion’s 12½ years or so. And he spoke with the authority, dignity and self-assurance of a leader on top of his job and at the peak of his career. The slides he used were a perfect complement to his presentation.
The purpose of Bibi’s trip to Europe was to gather support from Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May against concessions to Iran and against Iran’s involvement in Syria. Shawcross began by asking him if France, Germany and the UK were now accepting the end of the JCPOA? Bibi responded by saying what he DIDN’T say to the three Ms (Macron/Merkel/May).
He didn’t tell them that the JCPOA was finished – he didn’t need to because of the relative weights of the US and the Iranian economy. Faced (as they are) with the choice between doing business with Iranian counterparts or those from the US, no sensible government would choose Iran. (In his new book about Bibi, Anshel Pfeffer reportedly makes comparisons with Donald Trump. But while Trump’s economics is flaky (witness his introduction of protection for US steel!), Bibi’s is strong: he studied at MIT and Harvard and then worked for the Boston Consulting Group).
Shawcross asked him how he had managed to bring Russia round to tacitly allowing Israel to rebuff threats from Iran-backed forces in Syria. His brilliant response: ‘Is there a Baker Street here? That’s the dog that didn’t bark’ (a Sherlock Holmes reference).
He was asked the expected questions about Gaza and responded as expected, with this slide entitled ‘Hams Terror Activities Against Israel’ (apologies for the poor quality of the photos. I have requested the slides – meantime if anyone has better ones, please tell me).
He moved onto Iran.
It became clear that the main purpose of his trip was to enlist European help in stopping Iran from expanding its influence in the Middle East, for example in Syria.
On March 11, 2017, Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Ali Ja’fari said of the worldwide Islamic regime: “The history of Iran is replete with agreement on the Rule of the Jurisprudent which has [already] crossed Iran’s borders, and the united Islamic nation is being formed… We are on the path that leads to the rule of Islam worldwide.”
Here Bibi slipped in a clever soundbite: “It’s a mad idea but mad ideas before they’ve failed have claimed the lives of millions. We know that and so Iran doesn’t believe in a master race, Iran believes in a master faith.”
Bibi had a good comment on the status of Jerusalem. Those who argue that East Jerusalem should be the Palestinian capital often cite UN Resolution 181 on Partition. It proposed that Jerusalem should be an international city. It also proposed (Bibi pointed out) that Bethlehem should be in the international zone but no-one seriously thinks that if there is a Palestinian State, Bethlehem would not be in it.
The first questioner was Lord Michael Howard a former Conservative leader. He asked why Israel couldn’t use rubber bullets for those attempting to breach the border – or why the IDF couldn’t shoot them in the legs? He must have been asleep when Bibi was talking. Alternatively there is an issue with his hearing or his hearing aids. Because Bibi had already answered that question: “….water cannon doesn’t work, and tear gas doesn’t work” (from 17:20 on the video and transcript). (There’s not enough water and the prevaling wind is into the sea). Of course the Guardian headlined Howard’s question – and pointed out that he is Jewish – without (of course) mentioning that Bibi had already covered these points.
The third question (from me) was about UK policy towards Hezbolla. Just three days before the annual Israel Hatefest in London (the Al Quds Day march) – when Hezbolla flags are legally on display – did Bibi see any sense in the distinction the UK government makes between the ‘political wing’ of Hezbolla and its ‘military’ wing?
A lesser politician might have ducked the question, out of deference to their host. But the second longest-serving Prime Minister of Israel doesn’t do deference, when it comes to the UK Foreign Office appeasing terrorists who wish genocide on Jews. He answered fairly, squarely and superbly: “I think this is wrong. They’re both seeking the destruction of not only of Israel but of Jews and it’s like saying well the SS is bad but the Nazi political wing is okay”. Watch it here. Now Bibi became animated: “The support of Hezbollah and Hamas by people who claim that they have progressive values, I mean these are horrible people. It’s the worst theocratic gangsters in the world. They believe in nothing that we believe … This is pure and simple antisemitism that they are aligning with these horrible forces. That may be the wrong people, that execute people, their own people at gunpoint. That espouse this medieval barbarism against the forces of modernity and pluralism, I think there’s something deeply wrong with this. And who’s at fault here? It’s not Israel.”
He went on to talk about Israel’s successful diplomacy which has resulted in improved relations with many countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia – countries which are hungry for Israel’s expertise in counter-terror and in technology.
And – he said – this is paying dividends in public attitudes to Israel in those countries.
In his subsequent BBC Newsnight interview too, Bibi showed us just how much of a class act he is. Diplomatic – he didn’t have a bad word to say about Obama – knowledgeable, supremely articulate and an all-round great communicator. Evan Davis has a hectoring interview style but Bibi remained cool as a cucumber and forensically analytical.
Bottom line: In a world where so many leaders prove themselves here-today-gone-tomorrow pygmies, Israel and the Jewish people are blessed with a giant.