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Netanyahu facing acid test in Gaza

- November 16, 2012 - Updated 918 PKT - From Web Edition

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's major offensive on the Gaza Strip -- his first as premier -- could boost his political standing, but it could also backfire with January elections looming.


Netanyahu, who first served as premier between 1996-1999 and won a second term in 2009, has carefully nourished his image as a bellicose leader, in the belief that tough talk and a projection of "strength" prevents wars.


That has been particularly evident in his approach to Iran, which Israel accuses of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon -- a charge Tehran denies.


The US-educated Netanyahu, who during his military career served in the Sayeret Matkal special operations unit, is a loner with few close friends in the political establishment.


His defence minister, Ehud Barak, was a commander in the same unit.


The Gaza offensive began on Wednesday when an Israeli air strike killed top Hamas commander Ahmed Jaabari, sparking a rolling series of air raids Netanyahu called "a clear message to Hamas and other terrorist organisations."


And 24 hours later, with no end in sight, he warned that Israel was ready to "significantly expand" its campaign against Palestinian militants in Gaza.


"Jaabari is Netanyahu's Osama Bin Laden," wrote Amir Oren in the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper. "It is living -- that is, dead -- proof of his success in hunting down a senior terror organisation leader."


Netanyahu boasted in a speech to parliament last month: "During my term in office we did not engage in any unnecessary wars.


"In the seven years that I served there was no war and the level of terror went down. There was no war because we broadcast strength."


These remarks were aimed at his predecessor Ehud Olmert, who in 2006 launched a 34-day war against the Shiite Hezbollah militia which left more than 1,200 dead in Lebanon and 160 in Israel.


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