Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu is now Israel's longest-working prime minister, breaking the record of Israel's first leader, the legendary David Ben Gurion.
Netanyahu launched his career in controlling TV sound bites and explained Israel to the American public. Thirty years later, he is still far ahead of the game and shoots out Facebook videos & # 39; s. But the story of Netanyahu is now a bizarre contradiction. When he talks about Israeli technology and innovation, he radiates hope and optimism about his ability to build bridges around the world. His analysis of security threats, on the other hand, is full of fear and pessimism. His lesson from Jewish history is the inherent vulnerability and the constant need to prevent the next disaster.
The tragedy of Netanyahu & # 39; s career is that fear and pessimism begin to dominate its rhetoric and are relentlessly used to target and defile its domestic rivals. Bibi had hoped to mark his political milestone at the helm of his fourth successive government. Instead, he is back on the campaign path and fighting his second election in six months.
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His last election campaign was full of gutter politics, the culmination of years of violations of democratic norms. Netanyahu mocked his political opponents as leftists, attacked the media and challenged the motives of police and prosecutors for prosecuting corruption cases against him.
The April elections were a draw between Bibi & # 39; s Likud and the Blue and White party, led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz. But Netanyahu was still convinced that he could form a majority coalition with his traditional allies of right-wing and religious parties.
But Bibi, the master tactician, had misunderstood.
Israel's Attorney General has sued Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in February pending a hearing. In coalition talks, Bibi had one request – that his allies agree to grant him immunity from persecution. Each party drove a hard deal because of its weak negotiating position. Yisrael Beiteinu's leader, Avigdor Lieberman, insisted on maintaining a deal to kill more and more ultra-orthodox students. The ultra-orthodox parties wanted the deal to be watered down. No party supported and Netanyahu was forced to dissolve the newly elected parliament. As a result, his demands for strong and decisive leadership looked hollow.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu has led his Likud party three times in a row in the last ten years. His followers greet him like a magician.
But has the magic died? If he fails again, will it be curtains for Bibi?
Even a casteless Netanyahu can surpass his rivals and he has a strong reputation. He demands the honor for vital reforms that laid the foundation for Israel's thriving economy. Unemployment is low and, for many Israelis, life is good. He has forged new alliances in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He meets regularly with Vladimir Putin, but has a unique personal relationship with Donald Trump.
Netanyahu long ago identified Iran as an existential threat and demanded international action to tackle its nuclear program. He opposed the 2015 nuclear deal as a weak agreement that failed to remove Iran's nuclear capability, tackle Iran's missiles, or reduce support for dangerous terrorist groups. When President Trump withdrew from the deal and imposed sanctions, it was a victory for Netanyahu & # 39; s campaign to curb Iran.
While the Assad regime was floating on the brink, Netanyahu saw the danger of the considerable military build-up of Iran and Hezbollah to save it. He authorized hundreds of air strikes against the Iranian and Hezbollah forces in Syria to prevent a broader deployment, but has kept casualties low to prevent escalation and to destroy Iranian facilities and advanced weapons.
But Netanyahu has otherwise been very reluctant to use military force. Hamas has fired hundreds of missiles at Israel, but Netanyahu has only approved limited Israeli air strikes in response, ignoring calls to launch a wider ground operation to Gaza. He even agreed a truce to ease the blockade in exchange for an end to border violence.
Netanyahu's plan for the West Bank has not changed in decades. Despite a nod to the two-state solution in 2009, Netanyahu will only consider granting the autonomy of the Palestinians and not sovereignty, much less than a Palestinian state. Netanyahu claims that he does not want to control the West Bank forever, but has done nothing to prevent that outcome. Despite years of close cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, he believes he has no Palestinian partner and now is not the time for risky concessions. The reality is that Palestinian leaders in Gaza and Ramallah have done little to challenge that view.
Netanyahu is a gifted orator and media master. He could have used his immense talents to unite his diverse but versatile country and to break the stalemate with the Palestinians. Instead, he has exacerbated divisions, undermined the pillars of Israeli democracy and became more fearful and pessimistic – obsessed by staying in power as a goal in itself.
Unfortunately, that is his most lasting legacy.
James Sorene is chief executive officer of the British Israel Communications and Research Center (Bicom), a think tank conducting research on Israel and the Middle East
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