Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu, the unsinkable, again close to power

Head of the Israeli government for many years and nicknamed “Bibi”Benjamin Netanyahu considers protecting his country from its enemies to be his life’s mission.

In the campaign for this election, the fifth in three and a half years, Benjamin Netanyahu was, as usual, unanimous on one point: his tireless energy in the service of an intact will to govern.

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At 73, this adored and abhorred man has traveled the country through the “Bibimobile”fully glazed and ultra-secure truck freely inspired by the Pope’s vehicle.

For the first time since 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu would not compete as incumbent prime minister, having been dethroned in June 2021 by a motley coalition.

He will never hang up his jacket on his own, says Aviv Bushinsky, his former spokesman and connoisseur of Likud, his party. “He will do everything possible to form a coalition, even the craziest things. He thinks he has received a mission from God to save the country” confides the journalist and university professor to AFP.

Despite being indicted for bribery in a series of cases – allegations he denies – “Bibi” can count on an unwavering pool of supporters.

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Israel as a Jewish state

Benjamin Netanyahu, father of three children, is deeply marked by the heritage of the Israeli right.

Born in Tel Aviv on October 21, 1949, he got this strong ideological background from his father Benzion, ex-assistant of Zeev Jabotinsky, leader of the so-called Zionist tendency. “revisionist”favorable to “Greater Israel”.

In contrast to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process of the 1990s, which he helped to bury, Benjamin Netanyahu advocates a vision of Israel as “Jewish State” with borders extending to Jordan, hence his pronouncements in favor of annexing swaths of the occupied West Bank and measures to promote a settlement boom.

Benjamin Netanyahu in 1986, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, addresses the UN Security Council in February 1986, a meeting requested by Syria protesting Israel's interception of a Libyan jet carrying Syrian officials to Damascus.

In his last decade in power, settlements in the West Bank have grown to over 475,000 – a 50% increase – living alongside 2.9 million Palestinians, an increased presence that threatens the creation of a viable Palestinian state according to the UN.

At the turn of the 1970s, the young Netanyahu did his military service in an elite commando. But it is especially his older brother, Yoni, who stands out in the ranks of the army.

In 1976, Yoni, commander of the unit in charge of freeing the hostages of a Tel-Aviv/Paris flight in Uganda, was killed during the Israeli assault. He is considered a hero in Israel.

“I thought my life was over”writes in his autobiography published this month Benjamin Netanyahu, who will make “fight against terrorism”which he often associates with Palestinians or Iranians, one of the common threads of his career.

His admirers also see in him the embodiment of the new “King of Israel” for his strong defense of the country against Iran and its nuclear program, perceived as the new “Amalek”the mortal enemy of the Hebrews in the Bible.

Soldier, diplomat, prime minister

While he makes harsh remarks vis-à-vis the Palestinian leadership, he concluded normalization agreements in 2020 with Arab countries (United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco) under the aegis of Washington.

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A born speaker, he is also a career diplomat, posted in the United States, the country where he studied, then ambassador to the UN in the 1980s.

In 1996, at age 46, he triumphed over Dean Shimon Peres and became the youngest Prime Minister in the history of Israel. He will remain in power for three years.

He took a political break and then ended up returning to this passion by taking the head of Likud, until becoming Prime Minister again in 2009 until 2021.

In Jerusalem, in front of the Mount of Olives, shortly before being elected Prime Minister in February 2009.

A life “indissociable from the history of Israel”

“As a soldier, I fought to defend Israel on the battlefields. As a diplomat, I repelled attacks on its legitimacy in international forums. Minister of Finance and Prime Minister, I sought to strengthen its economic and political power among the nations”can we read in his biography “Bibi, my history” which appears on November 22.

“Born a year after the founding of the Jewish state, I have dedicated my life to fighting the forces that sought to destroy it and to make peace with those who support it” he declares in a press release from his publishing house. “My story is made up of dramas and triumphs, defeats and successes, lessons learned and loved ones who cherish me. It is inseparable from that of Israel, which has proven that faith can solve and overcome what seemed lost in move forward to turn it into a bright future.”

Trump ally and impersonator

Joshua Cohen, American writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel “The Netanyahus” in May 2022 underlined in an interview with Associated Press that Netanyahu is an ally of former US President Donald Trump whose way of exercising power he imitates.

He presents himself as the only leader capable of guiding Israel in these difficult times, brushes aside media criticism by calling them a “fake news” and accuses justice of carrying out a “witch hunt” against him.

Like Trump, his administration has left the country deeply divided between supporters who see him as a messianic savior and opponents who view him as a corrupt fascist who threatens the foundations of democracy.

“But everyone watched the show”, notes Joshua Cohen, American writer.

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Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu, the unsinkable, again close to power