In October 2022, between stints as prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu published a lengthy memoir. Bibi told Netanyahu’s story and shared his strategic vision for Israel and the Middle East. It was a rare glimpse into the mind of a man who had been in power and was set to return.

A memoir from a canny politician, however, can reveal only so much, and while the book told us a great deal about some things, it told us very little about how he actually operates as prime minister. Fortunately, former Netanyahu Chief of Staff Ari Harow has just published a new book called My Brother’s Keeper. This helpful volume fills in some of the gaps. Harow served as chief of staff a decade ago, while Israel was grappling with Hamas following the brutal kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths. That 2014 conflict resonates today, for obvious reasons.

Bibi told us how important external communication is to Netanyahu’s approach. This idea came from Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the Zionist leader and mentor to Netanyahu’s father. If you want to convince Western politicians, the theory goes, you have to convince their voters. This meant that Netanyahu was more interested in how his words were heard by the American people and not so much by American politicians. Netanyahu would accentuate this point by telling aides, “Why speak to 500 people when I could be speaking to 5 million?’”

Netanyahu understood that he had the skills to speak directly to American voters. He also worked at it. As Harow tells us, for his English speeches, “Netanyahu would read, reread, proof, and continuously edit the text to make sure that the precise words he wanted to convey flowed in a compelling cadence.”

As part of this effort to communicate to the English-speaking world, Netanyahu favored Jewish Anglo olim (immigrants) as top staffers. They included the Los Angeles–born Harow as well as Miami’s Ron Dermer, who helped bring Harow into the fold. Netanyahu liked their ability to communicate to Western audiences, and he also liked the commitment to Israel that they had demonstrated by making aliyah. He also knew that he could work them hard, and extremely long hours were understood to be part of the job when dealing with Netanyahu.

This focus on communicating to Western voters can and did have the effect of alienating the Western politicians who serve and served those voters. This may be one of the reasons that American politicians find Netanyahu so infuriating, and why his impact drives so many to profanity. Instances of this are legion, including President Joe Biden supposedly calling him a “bad f—ing guy” and an “a—hole”; Donald Trump saying “f— him,” after Netanyahu recognized Biden’s election victory; and Bill Clinton raging “Who’s the f—ing leader of the free world?” after receiving a lecture from Netanyahu.

Despite inducing all this profanity, Netanyahu himself is much more careful in his choice of words. According to Harow, Netanyahu never curses and is uncomfortable with people who do. In one meeting with Netanyahu, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham deployed the f-word so much that it seemed like “a comma,” discomfiting Bibi.

Another aspect of Netanyahu’s careful approach is his concern about electronic surveillance. He does not allow a television or a computer in his inner sanctum, never carries a smartphone, and keeps the windows to his private office shut at all times to prevent eavesdropping. This last step negatively affects his aides. Netanyahu insists they always wear a suit and tie (entirely contrary to the prevailing mode of dress in Israel). And because he smokes cigars in his enclosed office, his aides must constantly get their suits dry-cleaned, and even that fails to eliminate the stench.

According to Harow, while Netanyahu spends a great deal of time and effort dealing with geopolitics, maintaining his domestic political support is what allows him to play the great game. Netanyahu was very disciplined in his preparation and his reading. He had precisely set schedules for what he did on what days, including certain days devoted to security, and others more focused on cabinet business. He even had certain days in which he might do his “Houdini act,” in which he held secret meetings with leaders from countries that lacked official relations with Israel.

When Netanyahu spoke on security matters, he always liked to be flanked by security officials. For inner cabinet meetings, he would enter the room in a precise way, through a particular door that only he would use. As for the meetings themselves, he had always gamed them out, including making allotments for which ministers would speak to excess. According to Harow, “Netanyahu never entered a security cabinet meeting without knowing how it would end.”

Finally, there is one trait that may be the most essential to his continued survival, and hence the most infuriating to his enemies. Netanyahu’s military special-forces training taught him to leave all options open at all times. This meant sometimes being unwilling to decide or commit to a decision, a trait that led a senior Obama official—who likely was Obama himself—to call Netanyahu “chickens—t.” At the same time, it means that Netanyahu dislikes being cornered and will wait until the last possible moment to decide on a course of action.

Netanyahu has been on the world stage for an impossibly long time for an elected leader in the modern world. He comes under constant criticism for having overstayed his welcome and fends off frequent calls from domestic and international critics to step aside. Although there are certainly arguments to be made against him, it’s also important to recall that the strongest leaders in democracies cultivate discipline, preparation, patience, and experience. Netanyahu has all of these qualities in abundance, and they help explain his long tenure at the top.

Photo: Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP

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