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Trump, Putin and Netanyahu: the terrible trio of gaslighting narcissists

It looked like the bad bromance of the century: the unsavoury friendship between the former and possibly future US leader Donald Trump and the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

Not so long ago, Trump, the brash businessman, was a Democrat. Shortly before that, British leaders from Blair to Cameron told us Putin might steer his country towards the sunny uplands of liberal democracy,

Instead, gaslighting, demagoguery, non-stop lies and a ruthless instinct for self-preservation have characterised the pair’s time in and out of power.

But the gruesome twosome have been joined by another elected politician and supposed democrat who is sowing discord to save his own skin. That man is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who appears willing to defy his allies, the families of hostages and even members of his war cabinet in pursuing a policy of obliteration in Gaza.

The trio are up to their elbows in the two conflicts – in Ukraine and Gaza – that have made the world a more dangerous place than it has been for many decades.

Trump is trying to regain power. The others are trying to cling to it.

The ties that Trump has with Putin and Netanyahu are no secret.

Trump’s most notorious show of deference towards the Russian dictator occurred in Helsinki in 2018, when as president he dismissed the warnings of his own intelligence services and accepted Putin’s assertion that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 US election when, of course, it had.

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Concerns over Trump’s willingness to do Putin’s bidding were heightened this month when the presumed Republican presidential candidate said he would encourage Putin to attack Nato members who had not paid enough to the security alliance, which the Russian leader fears and loathes in equal measure.

For Netanyahu, the perennial Israeli prime minister, Trump, when in power from 2016 to 2020, was the gift that kept on giving. He binned the Iran nuclear deal, recognised Israel’s control of the Golan Heights and even moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, strengthening Netanyahu’s appeal among the ragtag bunch of ultra-Zionist parties he needed to prop up his fifth premiership – and frustrate authorities seeking to prosecute him on corruption charges.

It was during this period that Netanayhu began his disastrous policy of strengthening Hamas at the expense of the Fatah-led Palestinian authority.

The favours Trump granted Bibi, including the greenlight to build more and more illegal West Bank settlements were also nails in the coffin of the Palestinian cause, making a two-state solution to the conflict all but impossible.

The relationship between the Israel and Russia leaders is more complex. Early in the 2000s, relations between Israel and Russia took a step forward, with the arrival of the more pro-Israel Putin in the Kremlin.

Putin told Netanyahu in 2011 that by welcoming so many Russian Jews, Israel could be considered part of the Russian cultural world.

Israel has benefited from Russia granting permission to fly its jets through Syrian airspace when Moscow’s influence grew in the Middle East after intervening in favour of the Assad regime during Syria’s civil war.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Israel under Netanyahu has, unlike most Western countries, refused to impose sanctions on Moscow.

Even when the Putin regime called Volodymyr Zelensky, the Jewish president of Ukraine, a Nazi, and appeared to utterly offend Israel sensibilities, Netanyahu still refused to supply Kyiv with defensive arms. Moscow’s support of Hamas, has, since the 7 October attack on Israel, strained ties between Putin and Netanyahu. And Russia’s growing ties with Iran will not have pleased Netanyahu.

Vera Ageeva, an international relations expert at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, thinks that Netanyahu and Putin will continue to co-operate “for specific purposes” when it suits them.

Netanyahu appears utterly unwilling, however, to formulate his policy towards the Russian dictator according to principle.

What Trump, Netanyahu and Putin have in common is their desperate need to be in power to save their own skins. All three have or are in the process of undermining their country’s judiciary; all three have been accused of promoting conspiracy theories and aim vitriol – or in Putin’s case real poison – at their opponents.

Trump’s desperation to be re-elected stems from desire to be able to pardon himself from the slew of criminal convictions he’s threatened with. Netanyahu is prepared to lead a motley coalition with far-right Jewish supremacists and even convicted criminals as he schemes to overhaul the country’s justice system as he plots to save himself from corruption charges.

Like a mafia boss, Putin must win in Ukraine and stay in power or be at the mercy of who or what follows him.

Would America and the world be better off without a Trump II regime? Apart from the Maga-right and its new adherents, like our own ex-Kamikaze premier Liz Truss, most reasonable people would say a Biden II government that defends world trade, democracy and environmental protection is preferable.

Israel without Netanyahu would at least allow the Palestinians’ aspiration of statehood to be discussed – without which there can be no lasting peace in the Middle East.

Would Russia be less dangerous without Putin? We’d hope so. Although not everyone is convinced. Keir Giles, a Russia expert at Chatham House, warns that among Russia’s political class there is likely to remain a sense of “entitlement to dominion over their neighbours”.

The differences between Putin, 71, Netanyahu, 74, and Trump, 77, are clear: one is in power running a murderous mafia kleptocracy in Moscow; one is propping up a shambolic right-wing kakistocracy in Jerusalem; while the third solipsist wants to return to power in Washington to stay out of jail and pursue his thirst for “revenge”.

As Israel’s Haaretz newspaper notes: “They may be different – but where it matters, they are very much the same.”

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