Bibi's Choice

Will He Make War? Can He Make Peace?

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Marco Grob for TIME

Netanyahu has history on his mind

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According to Bibi, when he was a senior, he applied to Yale and got in. But he decided to do his military service in Israel and kept deferring his acceptance. He joined the Sayeret Matkal, the elite special-forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces, and stayed in for five years, participating in many counterterrorism operations and returning in 1973 for the October War. On the bookshelf of his private office is a picture of his unit. He walks over to the photograph and describes each man to me. He tells the story of a tall, slender soldier who almost died because he sat down in the snow of the Golan Heights when they were fighting in Syria. "You can freeze in seconds," he says. Bibi points out the Druze guide who, he says, "saved my life twice," once by pulling Bibi out of a river by his hair. He then describes what each man is doing today. Bibi rarely talks about his military service, and when he does, he talks more about his comrades than himself.

He decided not to attend Yale but to go to MIT because he thought the future was in technology; he earned a degree in architecture and then got a master's in business administration. Then he worked for a while in Boston at Boston Consulting Group. What he took away from that was Bruce Henderson's idea that every company must find its competitive advantage if it is to succeed over its rivals. He says he has applied the same strategy to Israel. It was at Boston Consulting that he met Mitt Romney. "We did not know each other that well," Bibi says. "He was the whiz kid. I was just in the back of the room." Bibi says he has seen Romney only a handful of times over the years and only once this year. They spoke for 10 minutes during his visit to Washington in March, mainly about Iran.

When his brother Yoni was killed at Entebbe, Bibi was devastated. He adored Yoni. In Jerusalem in 1979 he created a conference on terrorism. It was a great success, and Moshe Arens, then the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., invited him to be the No. 2 in the embassy in Washington in 1982. In 1983, Arens was summoned back to Israel to be the Defense Minister, and Bibi became Israel's ambassador to the U.N. and the face of Israel on American TV. He appeared regularly on Nightline and became the Israeli-American It boy--confident, handsome, fearsomely articulate in virtually accentless English. Every suburban Jewish mother had a crush on him. Until Bibi, Israel had had only one appealing spokesperson in the U.S., the dapper, British-accented Abba Eban. But if Eban was Masterpiece Theatre, Bibi was the streetwise local anchorman who told it like it was. Bibi was the first Israeli-American crossover artist and acquired a keen understanding of American media on which he has relied ever since.

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