Israel’s right-wing veteran Benjamin Netanyahu, who has served as the country’s prime minister longer than anyone else, has described protecting the Jewish state from its enemies as his “life’s mission”.
His critics and allies alike concede that the gravel-voiced security hawk is a tireless campaigner in pursuit of an office — the Israeli premiership — which he believes he is uniquely qualified to hold.
At age 73, the leader of the conservative Likud party is contesting his fifth election in less than four years on Tuesday, with all eyes on whether he will make a comeback or perhaps stage his last stand.
Despite his trial on corruption charges, which he denies, political experts say ‘Bibi’, as he is known, will have the loyal support of the Likud grassroots for as long as it takes to return him to power.
There is “no way” Netanyahu will stand aside, and “he will try to do whatever he can to form a coalition, no matter how crazy”, Netanyahu’s former spokesman and Likud insider Aviv Bushinsky told AFP.
“In his head he has a mission from God to save the country.”
Netanyahu is the son of a historian who was active in right-wing Zionist groups, an ideological inheritance that helped shape his political career.
He was marked strongly by the death of his older brother Yonatan, the only Israeli soldier killed in a 1976 commando raid to free hostages at Uganda’s Entebbe airport.
In a memoir released this month, Netanyahu recalled that he felt he would “never recover” from the loss.
“When the news reached me that Yoni had died in Entebbe, I felt as if my life had ended.”
– ‘My ancient people’ –
Netanyahu has never engaged in substantive peace talks with the Palestinians, rather overseeing a boom in expansion of Israel’s West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
Countering Israel’s arch-foe Iran — including its alleged nuclear weapons programme and allied groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah — has been the centrepiece of his foreign policy.
In his last year in office, Netanyahu, a close ally of former US president Donald Trump, clinched historic, Washington-brokered normalisation agreements with several Arab states.
Netanyahu has two sons with his wife Sara and a daughter from a previous marriage.
Raised partly in the United States, Netanyahu graduated from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
With his fluent English, he regularly appeared on US television, defending Israel throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s — exposure that raised his profile both at home and abroad.
Netanyahu became Likud’s leader in 1993 and led the party to victory as Israel’s youngest-ever prime minister in 1996, aged 46.
He lost power in 1999, but regained it 10 years later.
Despite his advancing age, ongoing trial and electoral misadventures, there is little doubt about Netanyahu’s thirst to reclaim power.
He reflected on his achievements in the autobiography he…