Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prides himself on his diplomatic skill — so much so that he’s made it the centerpiece of his re-election campaign. A U.S.-sponsored Middle East summit where he’d meet Arab foreign ministers seemed just the kind of event he could use to his benefit.
Instead, as the summit was getting underway Wednesday, Netanyahu stepped in it, in glaring fashion. Speaking in a videotaped interview in Hebrew, he said Israel and Arab states were meeting in Warsaw to advance a common interest — ‘war with Iran.’
The video ricocheted around the Twitterverse. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted ‘We’ve always known Netanyahu’s illusions. Now, the world – and those attending #WarsawCircus – know, too.’
Israeli media, normally as swift on a story as a Tel Aviv driver when the light turns green, were uncharacteristically slow to respond. Could the premier, always so deft in these diplomatic settings, really have said this? Or was this fake news, something Israel’s security service warned foreign hackers were using to influence the April election?
As it turned out, the video was real. Within minutes it was deleted from Twitter, and a new release was out from the Government Press Office. This one also said Israel and the Arab states were sitting together to advance a common interest — ‘combating Iran.’
The word Netanyahu used in Hebrew does indeed mean war, but some commentators noted it could have non-military connotations of a concerted effort against something — the “war” on poverty, for example. The premier’s office declined to comment.
The Warsaw summit may indeed end up playing a role in Israel’s election campaign. Just not as Netanyahu intended.