Fourteen years ago, I interviewed a wise, elderly historian who was larger than life. His name was Benzion Netanyahu. And because he is a man of truth, Prof. Netanyahu didn't spare me the truth: The biggest problem with my son, he said, is his inability to choose worthy people.
Just as his learned forecast about Iran came true, and just as his prediction about the decline of the West came true, so too did his prophecy about his son, Benjamin. The fact that the professor's son doesn't know to choose and work with worthy people is his greatest handicap.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is very talented, but he's also a loner devoid of emotional intelligence. His complete blindness about other people, coupled with his exaggerated suspicions of other people, has made it impossible for him to fulfill his inherent potential.
In his own view, Netanyahu is an overwhelming success. He wanted to be prime minister, and he became prime minister. He was booted out of the Prime Minister's Office and returned. His second government is strong and stable. He was chosen this week to lead the Likud party for the fourth time.
Over the past three years, Netanyahu has succeeded in decimating the left's belief in peace with the Palestinians, and he is en route to destroying the world's hopes as well. He has managed to convince both the Americans and the Europeans that the main topic on the world's agenda must be Iran. And he has taught more than a thing or two to U.S. President Barack Obama, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
The Likud chairman has turned Likud into a hegemonic ruling party. During his tenure, the borders are (still ) quiet and the economy is (still ) flourishing. Israelis seeking a replacement for the right-wing leader are having a hard time finding one. Against all odds, the son of Benzion Netanyahu has succeeded in positioning himself as Israel's responsible adult.
Netanyahu ascribes this surprising success to his close circle of loyalists. During the years when people wrote him off, these loyalists believed in him. When the world was hostile to him, these loyalists stood by him. The troubled and oppressed man who is now prime minister feels that these three or four people are the only ones he can trust. They were with him in the past and will always be with him. They never betrayed him and will never betray him. These are the people whose loyalty has gotten him this far.
To a certain degree, Netanyahu is right. Every leader needs a closed room in which he can feel protected and safe. Every leader needs a small group of confidants. No Nobel Prize winner has ever done for him what these people have done for him.
But from another perspective, Netanyahu is making a big mistake. It's impossible to burden a handful of loyalists with the weight of an entire country. You can't run a government without an organized and orderly staff. You can't run the State of Israel the way you run a corner grocery.
The professor's son knows this. In private conversations, he admits that his bureau contains only four or five suitable people. He knows that his bureau is flawed and provincial. But because of the serious defect his father pointed out, Netanyahu is sticking with it as it is.
For three years, the prime minister of Israel has been operating in an inferior human environment that doesn't suit him. For three years, the prime minister of Israel has been functioning without a team, without senior staff and without a system. Netanyahu, the gifted statesman, is managing and being managed in a humiliating fashion.
We all hope that Natan Eshel emerges from the harassment investigation against him as white as snow. Until proven otherwise, we must presume that Netanyahu's bureau chief is innocent.
But the bureau itself isn't innocent. The most important office in Israel is amateurish, capricious and rash. It has a few stars, but what carries the day are irrelevant, unprofessional, and unstatesmanlike considerations. There is nothing about it that resembles the polished operations of the White House, 10 Downing Street or the Elysee.
Therefore, when the fog clears and the Eshel case is behind us, Netanyahu is going to have to make some order in his work environment. After years of wretched mediocrity, it's time for excellence in the Prime Minister's Bureau.
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