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Netanyahu campaign strategy? Put Iran center stage.

An Israeli TV scoop about a near-attack on Iran two years ago underscores the lock that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who hopes to prevail in January polls, has on the national security debate.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, Nov. 4.

Gali Tibbon/AP

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A juicy scoop by a leading television news show about a near-attack by Israel on Iran two years turned into a glimpse of what could likely be a central debate in Israel’s upcoming election campaign: Who is best suited to block Tehran from getting nuclear weapons.

In an hour-long piece, the TV news magazine "Fact" alleged that two years ago, security chiefs put the brakes on a plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to put the military on heightened alert for a possible attack on Iran. In an extended interview, Mr. Netanyahu was forced to fend off allegations he is too eager to launch a risky attack.

"I don’t rejoice in war," he said. "I am exerting very heavy international pressure. Part of that pressure is the awareness by main powers in the world that we are serious, that it's not a show."

Netanyahu claimed that Israel is "preparing" to face on its own what he has portrayed as an existential threat.

Putting the question of Iran back into the public spotlight highlighted how the Israeli prime minister is on his home turf on the issue of Iran, even when he is on the defensive. Analysts expect that if Iran and national security issues dominate the campaign before Israelis go to the polls on Jan. 22, Mr. Netanyahu and his Likud party should win handily, as no other active candidate currently can match Netanyahu’s charisma and credibility on handling national security.

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