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When Bibi was Prime Minister for the first time, he addressed a joint session of Congress in Washington and used these words: "The deadline for attaining this goal is extremely close ... Deterrence must be reinforced with prevention, immediate and effective prevention ... Time is running out." He was talking about Iran, and now, 16 years later, time may actually be running out.
He sees Iran as exceptional, and not in a good way. "It could be the first time we have a nuclear player who will not necessarily play by the rules. All the previous nuclear powers have been careful," he says. To him, this is as clear a threat to Israel as has ever existed. He gets exercised on the topic. "This is the greatest threat not just to Israel and the Middle East but to civilization. You don't know how they will behave."
Last September the then air-force chief of staff told Netanyahu's security cabinet that a strike by Israel alone would not affect Iran's nuclear program in a "meaningful way." Meaningful has been defined as setting back the Iranian weapons effort by at least two years. That's chiefly because Israel lacks the heavy ordnance that could destroy the underground Iranian weapons facilities or the long-range bombers that could reach the targets without midair refueling.
Which helps explain why, as the Iran nuclear talks resume next week in Baghdad, there is hope in Washington and elsewhere that Iran will knuckle under to the latest round of sanctions and agree to shut down its nuclear-enrichment facilities and allow U.N. inspections. The sanctions, one of the most effective foreign policy initiatives of the Obama Administration, have caused the Iranian rial to lose 75% of its value and unleashed hyperinflation on the Iranian economy. With Israel, says U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, "We share the same goal"--that is, preventing Iran from getting a nuclear device. "The question," he says, "is whether military action is the most effective way to accomplish your goal."
But Bibi does not share the general faith in negotiations or give any ground on the military option. There's a greater threat in doing nothing, he says, than in acting. Game theory would also suggest that there is no downside to Bibi's bluster. But he gives no hint that he is anything but dead serious.
Like Father, like Son
Bibi likes to talk about books. In conversation, he refers to books by Will Durant, Michael Walzer and Arthur Laffer. He talks about the books he has written on terrorism and the history of Zionism. His study is teeming with books. But when I leave after 2 hours of conversation, the one book he presses on me and says I must read is a slim volume by his father about the five Zionists who helped create Israel.