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Benjamin Netanyahu chose to forgo stately, prudent sentiments when he eulogized Yitzhak Shamir at the government meeting. On this official occasion, the prime minister arrogantly delivered a blood-curdling, racist rant that pointed out, in his view, the accuracy of Shamir's statement that: the "Arabs" will always be the same "Arabs."

This is the view of a prime minister of a state in which a fifth of the citizens are Arabs; a leader who needs every particle of legitimacy, internal and external, that he can summon ahead of an external life-or-death struggle.

Many naively believe that Netanyahu is like Shamir. If only that were the case. Shamir has the quality of a zen master who had the ability to kill and be killed without batting an eyelash, whereas his eulogizer has a manic-depressive, stressed, Medusa-like quality. Shamir brought his colleague Eliyahu Giladi from the Lehi underground to the sea. Giladi had concocted plots to carry out acts of violent hatred against fellow Jews. Shamir ordered his execution and took part in it. He finished the act by naming his own daughter Gilada after his former partner.

Netanyahu is no Shamir; he is Eliyahu Giladi. In Shamir's case, the sentence conveying a generalization about the "Arabs" constituted ultra-nationalist objection to any compromise. It was rooted in a need to display firm rigidity vis-a-vis a rival for power in territories of the country. In Netanyahu's case, in contrast, incitement is part of his inner nature; it's an ideological imperative. It is that nature which placed Netanyahu at the head of demonstrations that called for the "bloody expulsion" of Yitzhak Rabin. And it is that nature that led him to make comments about how "the left has forgotten what it means to be a Jew."

This internal compulsion of malice is what caused Menachem Begin to view Netanyahu's father, Benzion, as a dangerous extremist. Similar dangers apparent within his son's personality caused Shamir to view Netanyahu as a danger to the state. The same compulsion is also what caused his grandson to form an anti-Arab hate group. This compulsive malice is what compelled Netanyahu's administration to appoint the anti-Arab incitement-mongering chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, to serve as spiritual leader of the Magen David Adom rescue service.

This compulsion may also be what caused Netanyahu to declare that he prefers missile fire on Tel Aviv to the Iranian nuclear program. Netanyahu has been quoted as saying that The New York Times and Haaretz are the worst enemies of Israel. All I can say is that the first part of Netanyahu's statement, about the missiles on Tel Aviv, home of Haaretz's office, stands on its own.

In January 1991, planes were on the runway, prepared for take-off on a mission against Iraq. Shamir concluded a cabinet meeting on the matter by remarking that there wasn't a majority in favor of military action against Baghdad. In fact, there was a cabinet majority in favor of such an action, but Shamir grasped the basic strategic reality: a leader who stubbornly insisted on control of the territories and settlements lacked global legitimacy to carry out wide-ranging strategic actions. The strategic confrontation had to be left to the Americans. In Shamir's view, this price was worth paying, in exchange for diplomatic obstinacy.

This point eludes those who wake up to the facts belatedly, as in the case of Prof. Yehezkel Dror, who told Haaretz's Ari Shavit last week that his views on the Iranian crisis have changed. He now understands that a nuclear Iran would be a military threat. Dror proposed a remedy to the Iran crisis: first, a preemptive war, and then a peace proposal and compromise. But this remedy has already been proven to be wrong. History has shown - as Dror's friend Ehud Barak pretends to understand - that the key to victory in a preemptive war is the obtainment of wide-ranging internal and external legitimacy. Such legitimacy is accrued by seeking peace prior to the fighting, not after the war.

Yitzhak Rabin, who woke up to reality 20 years before Dror, veered toward peace in order to create internal and external conditions suited for a successful confrontation with Iran. Begin operated in the same way. When he took the reins of power from Rabin in 1977, Begin became tremendously interested in the Iraqi case. This interest was one prime factor that compelled him toward peace-making with the Egyptians. His love for citizens of this country, which he expressed through neighborhood renewal projects, added to Begin's legitimacy.

The Iranian nuclear program poses a real threat, and it should be eradicated at virtually any cost. And the cost of a successful action against Iran can already be identified: Israel would need to win legitimacy in the west by showing willingness to pull out of all the territories. Such willingness must be demonstrated before a war.

Preemptive wars can only be won by leaders and regimes that love their citizens and do not want to actually fight that war. These are leaders in the Levi Eshkol mold. Those who gallop toward preemptive battles because of hatred of the "other" and the "Arabs" merely end up bringing scandal and woe upon themselves, and their people.

Iran has yet to cross the nuclear bomb threshold. Elections are to be held in coming months in Iran and in the United States. A regime change in Israel that would involve a promise of a full withdrawal from the territories remains a possibility. Only such a government, one which loves its citizens and embraces compromise, could recruit legitimacy needed for victory against Iran.