By John Kanelis
His friends call him "Bibi," which is a sort of a term of endearment.
But don't think of Benjamin Netanyahu as a warm and fuzzy kind of guy. He's a warrior for his nation, which happens to be Israel -- which also happens to be the United States's primary ally in the Middle East.
"Frontline" opens the new year on Panhandle PBS with the premier of a special on Netanyahu titled "Netanyahu at War." It airs on Jan. 5 at 8 p.m.
To call Netanyahu a "polarizing figure" is to commit perhaps a serious form of understatement. He is particularly polarizing in the United States, a nation he knows well. He was educated here and if you listen to him speak to American audiences, you have to listen carefully to detect the accent of a man from a foreign land. He is fluent in American idiom and understands the American political process quite well.
In 2012, he expressed openly his desire for Americans to elect Republican nominee Mitt Romney as president of the United States; indeed, he and Romney have been friends for many years.
Netanyahu's relationship with the current president, Democrat Barack Obama, has been described as "testy," "strained," and even overtly "hostile," depending on who's offering the description. Netanyahu and Obama, though, describe their nations' relationship almost in familial terms. Families, Netanyahu says, argue and they differ, but they eventually stand together.
The United States continues to declare its commitment to Israel's defense, which Netanyahu accepts.
But then came the moment in 2015 when Netanyahu, at the invitation of then-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, came to this country and spoke to a joint congressional session and argued openly against the U.S.-led negotiation to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu called it a "historic" error to lift economic sanctions on Iran and has warned that the Iranian mullahs are not to be trusted to keep any promise they make.
Netanyahu's critics said he—along with Speaker Boehner—undermined U.S. foreign policy efforts; his supporters counter that Netanyahu is right to mistrust the Iranians, given the Islamic Republic of Iran's stated goal of wiping Israel off the face of the planet.
"Frontline" presents a two-hour special on the combative prime minister and his sometimes testy relations with U.S. presidents of both political parties over the years.
He often takes hard-line positions with regard to Iran and with the Palestinians, with whom Israel has been "at war" for many decades. The Palestinian Authority controls Gaza and the West Bank and the Israelis' insistence on building settlements for their own citizens in Palestinian territory has rankled many over the years.
Netanyahu has fought for his nation while wearing a military uniform and he continues to fight for it now that he's entered the political realm.
He makes no apology and, in fact, points to the undeniable fact that his country is surrounded by nations that either still want to destroy Israel or who have signed peace treaties with Israsel—but only after going to war with the Israelis in the first place.
As "Frontline" describes him, Netanyahu "is one of the most polarizing political leaders on the world stage."
Viewers of this new special are likely to find out why that's the case and why Bibi Netanyahu stands firmly on his desire to do whatever he must to protect the nation he governs.