Netanyahu plays statesman in Portugal - analysis

The prime minister also argued that he has unique abilities to bolster US-Israel ties.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Mike Pompeo meet at the UN Security Council, September 26, 2018 (photo credit: GPO PHOTO DEPARTMENT)
Benjamin Netanyahu and Mike Pompeo meet at the UN Security Council, September 26, 2018
(photo credit: GPO PHOTO DEPARTMENT)
Multiple indictments on the way, with 333 planned witnesses for the prosecution, stalled coalition talks with a Wednesday deadline, a Knesset careening toward a third election in less than a year, and a leadership challenge in the Likud Party.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left all that behind for a quick jaunt to Portugal to meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and discuss his favorite subject, as he described it himself: “The first thing we’ll discuss is Iran. The second is Iran. And the third is Iran.”
Netanyahu emphasized how important the meeting was for Israel’s national security.
Asked if this trip was an escape for him, Netanyahu said: “I don’t deny that things are hard, but I’m different than people think. Not that I’m a robot, but I have a unique ability to concentrate.”
That is just what Netanyahu wants to broadcast to the Israelis watching and reading at home. Because even when he’s ostensibly not on the campaign trail, when there’s such a huge chance of an election being called next week, he is always campaigning.
And with a campaign taking place while he’s being charged on multiple counts of corruption, he has to show that he not only has a unique ability to focus on the job of prime minister despite the distractions around him, but that he has unique abilities that other prime ministerial candidates don’t have, which make it worth electing him despite those distractions.
When Netanyahu briefed reporters at the end of the trip in an overcrowded meeting room at the Four Seasons Ritz, drinking a double espresso and “jumping water,” as he jokingly called his bottle of seltzer, he made it clear that looking statesmanlike was on his mind.
Netanyahu gave the reporters accompanying him to Lisbon a dressing-down for not realizing what a great leader he is.
First he displayed charts on the small screens of his aides’ smartphones. One showed a rising number of Israelis saying the country is doing well over the past decade. Another was a line graph of the sharp increase of multinational corporations investing in Israel since 2003, when he was finance minister.
“If you were really objective,” he scoffed at the end of the briefing, journalists would have asked about Israel coming in eighth place in the US News and World Report’s ranking of powerful countries.
Netanyahu pointed to Russia’s ranking, second place, and wondered why out loud, saying that “They have an economy like Spain’s.”
“Look at the criteria,” he said. “What we’ve done in the past 10 years is bring Israel to record heights and unparalleled power.”
Then Netanyahu walked out, leaving the journalists to solve the riddle.
The first criteria listed on the power ranking’s website is a country’s leader.
Netanyahu seemed to be saying that he and Russia’s strongman President Vladimir Putin have something in common, in that they both are singular figures on the world stage boosting their country’s power.
The prime minister also argued that he has unique abilities to bolster US-Israel ties.
“I have connections with the US government and Jewish community and others don’t. I need to be prime minister now in order to utilize it,“ he stated.
Asked whether the political stability at home has changed Israel’s relations with the world, Netanyahu said there is “no influence, I don’t see it,” and that the reason his meeting with Pompeo was in Lisbon and not on the sidelines of this week’s NATO summit in London had nothing to do with his current legal or electoral status. It was only because the British said they could not handle Netanyahu’s security arrangements at the same time as US President Donald Trump and all the other world leaders in town, he said.
Everything is business as usual. The chaos is having no impact. And only Netanyahu can keep Israel afloat. Those are the messages Netanyahu is trying to send. Whether the voters will be convinced remains to be seen.