Lieberman: Netanyahu Can't Advise on Iran - He Couldn't Even Defeat Hamas

Now that Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu are no longer running on a joint ticket, Avigdor Lieberman is taking aim at Netanyahu's point of pride: his hawkishness on Iran.

Shirly Seidler
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Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Shirly Seidler

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not do a good enough job defeating Hamas to be able to advise others on how to deal with Iran, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday.

He was referring to Netanyahu's controversial March 3 speech before both houses of Congress, which he is expected to devote to the specter of a nuclear Iran.

"It's impossible to speak about Iran when we don't know how to resolve the problem with Hamas," Lieberman said during a visit to Sderot, one of the main targets of Hamas rockets. "It's impossible to preach to the world about how to fight terrorism if we are unable to defeat [Hamas], to win and overthrow terrorism. Terrorists need to get the death penalty. Give an order to the Israel Defense Forces that the next operation will be the final operation, and will end with destroying the Hamas regime."

The comments appear to be an attempt to outflank Netanyahu from the right and win votes for Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party in the March 17 national election. This marks a change from the last election, in 2013, when the two leaders presented a united front because they were running on a joint ticket.

Netanyahu has consistently been hawkish on Iran, and Lieberman's comments indicate the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman is aiming at the prime minister's point of pride by arguing that Netanyahu is not as strong a leader as he purports to be, even on the issue on which he is most outspoken.

In an interview with Channel 2 on Friday, Lieberman compared Netanyahu unfavorably to former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Ehud Olmert. Begin authorized Israel's attack on a nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981, and Olmert was premier when, according to foreign news reports, Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.

"What I can say is that in the two previous instances, when Begin decided to destroy the Iraqi reactor, there were not speeches and there wasn't any public or political struggle or debate, or any leaks," Lieberman said in the television interview. "We woke up one morning and there was no reactor, without speeches and without stories. Also regarding what we read in the media about Syria."

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