Benjamin Netanyahu is alone now.
Or at least that is how the Israeli leader must feel. Israel’s greatest and most important ally, the United States, is pursuing a nuclear agreement with Israel’s most threatening enemy, Iran. And despite what Barack Obama and John Kerry say, you can’t help but get the sense that Team Obama really wants a deal, any deal, no matter how weak, so long as it makes it appear the Iranian nuclear issue is settled.
No one is privy to Netanyahu’s private thoughts. But it isn’t too difficult to imagine some of the things that roll around in his head late at night in the silence of the darkness.
I bet he thinks about his late father, Benzion, who died in 2012 at the ripe old age of 102. Benzion was well-regarded historian, whose 1,400 page revisionist history of the Spanish Inquisition upended the conventional understanding of that historic crime. The book’s great thesis was that Jews were targeted by the Spanish for racial reasons, not religious ones. Even Jews who had wholeheartedly converted to Catholicism were persecuted, Benzion argued. There was nothing they could do, nothing they could say, to soften their tormentors’ hearts. For Netanyahu, this lesson of his father’s is likely more than historical curiosity.
Bibi probably also thinks of his late brother, Yoni, the great Israeli warrior struck down in his prime in one of the greatest rescue operations in world history. After terrorists hijacked a plane from Israel and directed it to Idi Amin’s Uganda, Yoni planned and led the daring raid that rescued nearly every hostage from a country over 2,500 miles away from Israel’s borders. But the raid’s tremendous success was tempered by the fact that Yoni was the sole Israeli soldier to fall during the operation.
Yoni left behind the powerful letters he wrote over the course of his life to his friends, lovers and family, including to his younger brother Benjamin, who in one letter he described as his “only true friend.”
“Only if we do that, if we give all we have for the well-being of our country, will Israel remain the State of the Jews,” Yoni wrote to his father in one letter, after abruptly leaving Harvard to once again don his country’s uniform as Israel continued to face threats in the aftermath of the Six Day War. “Only then will they not write in the history books that once indeed the Jews roused themselves to action and held on to their land for two decades, but then were overwhelmed and became once more homeless wanderers.”
“I would rather opt for living here in continual battle than for becoming part of the wandering Jewish people,” he wrote to his brother in another letter, shortly after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. “Any compromise will simply hasten the end. As I don’t intend to tell my grandchildren about the Jewish State in the twentieth century as a mere brief and transient episode in thousands of years of wandering, I intend to hold on here with all my might.”
And then there was the letter he sent to his brother when Benjamin was still in high school. “There’s nothing wrong with a good fist fight; on the contrary, if you’re young and you’re not seriously hurt, it won’t do you real harm,” he wrote to the future prime minister. “Remember what I told you? He who delivers the first blow, wins.”
It is hard to imagine Netanyahu doesn’t hear Yoni’s voice resonating from the grave during times like these.