Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu
By Michael Leonard Douglas and D.S. Mitchell
Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s has dreams of going down in the history books as a brilliant, charismatic and heroic leader, shaped by a lifetime of war and domestic conflict. In fact, many in Israel and the United States don’t remember anyone but Netanyahu as Israel’s Prime Minister.
Arrogance and Corruption
But, sadly, like so many other men of prominence Benjamin Netanyahu has succumbed to arrogance, corruption and greed. Familiar human failings. None the less sad for a man who has dominated the Israeli military-political sphere for multiple decades. For years, Netanyahu has portrayed himself as the single person who is smart enough, and strong enough to keep Israel safe.
Threats of Indictment
Currently Benjamin Netanyahu is facing possible indictment for money laundering, fraud, bribery, and breach of trust in three separate ongoing criminal cases. This is only the most recent of several attempts to indict Netanyahu for political corruption. The first threats at indictment and trial occurred in 1993 and again in 1997 without action.
Israeli Witch hunt
Now in 2019 on the eve of another election the Israeli Attorney General is threatening Netanyahu once again with indictment and potential incarceration. Netanyahu is a shrewd and experienced politician who has weathered numerous scandals. He claims he is the victim of a “witch hunt” concocted by his political opponents.
Benjamin Netanyahu was born in 1949, in Tel Aviv, one year after the founding of the modern Jewish state. In 1963 “Bibi” moved with his family to the United States. His father, a history professor, was hired by an American college as an instructor. After turning 18, Netanyahu returned to Israel to serve in the Israeli army.
As an army captain he distinguished himself in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit. As a leader of his group he participated in a raid on the Beirut airport in 1968. Furthermore he fought heroically in the 1973 Middle East war where he was wounded. After five years of military service he returned to the United States to attend college. He earned both a baccalaureate degree and a master’s degree from MIT.
1976 a major terrorist tactic was airline hijacking. In one such event an airliner was diverted to Entebbe, Uganda. The hijackers were welcomed and aided by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. After more than a week a group of Jewish passengers were still being held captive.
It was at that time an Israeli rescue effort was launched by Israeli commandos led by Bibi’s older brother Yonatan (Jonathan) Netanyahu. Yonatan, a unit commander was killed during the raid. To Israeli’s Yonatan Netanyahu is a hero of legendary proportions.
After Yonatan’s death Benjamin founded the Yonatan Anti-Terror Institute to honor his brother. The Institute’s main goals were to sponsor conferences that dealt with terrorism. The foundation spearheaded Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career. Netanyahu speaks fluent English, albeit with a noticeable American accent.
A Star Rising
Netanyahu first government job was that of Israel’s Deputy Chief of Mission to Washington, D.C. He quickly became a fixture on American television where he was a brilliant advocate for the Israeli cause against the Arabs. In 1984 he was appointed ambassador to the U.N. While at the U.N., Netanyahu continued to battle terrorism and his political star was on the rise in his homeland.
Netanyahu served successfully at the U.N. for four years. After his UN stint, Netanyahu was appointed to be the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Just 3 years into this position, his party the Likud, defeated the Labor party and it’s candidate, Shimon Peres. This meant that Benjamin Netanyahu became Israel’s youngest Prime Minister in 1993.
Inflames Political Divisions
Benjamin Netanyahu exploited political divides on two issues that continue to fester in Israel until this day. He fanned right-wing fury after the 1993 Oslo Accords and many say he used a wave of Palestinian terror attacks for political gain. Many on the political left still, these many years later, blame Netanyahu for the heated political environment that led to the murder of opposition leader former Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin in 1995.
As you can imagine, not everyone welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu’s election. Many believed his youth and political inexperience and rabble rousing persona were dangerous to the country. As Israel’s youngest Prime Minister he faced unrest and economic discontent domestically and international shifting alliances. In 1997, Netanyahu took a U-turn on his election rhetoric of opposition to the Oslo Accords. That year, Mr. Netanyahu signed a deal handing over 80% of Hebron to Palestinian Authority control and in 1998 he signed the Wye River Memorandum outlining further withdrawals from the West Bank.
From The Right And The Left
Both the right and the political left attacked Netanyahu for his shifting political positions. The left was angry at the slow peace process, while the right were angry due to land cessation to the Palestinian Authority. As tensions increased he faced push back from members of his right-wing party. His term as the Prime Minister evoked mixed reactions locally and internationally.
In 1998, the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) called for a new election in 1999. During his time as Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s flip-flop policies cost him popularity. The main issue was his inconsistency about his stance on peace accords with the Arabs.
Furthermore personal scandals and talk of corruption and an ugly divorce took their toll on his personal popularity. Netanyahu lost his re-election bid to war hero Ehud Barak.
Corruption and Fraud
Roni Bar-On was appointed Israeli Attorney General in 1997 to investigate government corruption. His appointment fueled fears on the political right. Most of those on the right felt Bar-On might enlarge the corruption probe against Netanyahu. Netanyahu avoided criminal charges but the disarray in his party produced weakness. The division on the right gave the Labor Party time to strategize, make popularity gains and emerge victorious in 1999.
Back and Forth
After his defeat, Netanyahu resigned as a member of Parliament and the chairmanship of the Likud Party and retired to private life. Ariel Sharon succeeded Netanyahu as the leader of the Likud Party. By 2001 the Likud Party with Ariel Sharon at its head had retaken control of the government.
A New Job
Sharon reached out to Netanyahu offering him a role as foreign minister. He served as foreign minister and then as finance minister under Sharon. When Sharon pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, Netanyahu resigned in protest.
In 2005, Ariel Sharon left the right-wing Likud Party to set up Kadima, a new centrist party. Shortly after forming his new party, Sharon suffered a massive stroke leaving him in a coma. Netanyahu was a quick beneficiary of the situation. The Likud brought Netanyahu back as leader of the their party. In 2009 Netanyahu was re-elected as Prime Minister.
The international community claimed Netanyahu was jeopardizing the peace talks with Palestinians by refusing to freeze Jewish settlement building in occupied lands. The outrage caused him to modify his plan.
Is This Really New?
Netanyahu began to verbalize publicly acceptance of “a demilitarized Palestine state” with the condition that the Palestinians accept a “militarized Jewish state.”
Internally, his government faced increasing economic dissatisfaction with the middle class and younger age group staging a series of protests in 2011, demanding better transportation, housing, education, and improvement to infrastructure.
In 2012 Netanyahu dissolved Parliament and called for early elections. Netanyahu ordered a major offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza while the Parliament was out of session. The operation lasted 8 days.
Hamas Continues Rocket Attacks
The Palestinian agitation flared again and after a series of rocket attacks in July of 2014 Mr. Netanyahu launched the “50 Day War”. In the end, 2100 Palestinian civilians were dead. Israel lost 67 soldiers and 6 civilians in the conflict.
That same year the relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government hit rock bottom. Obama was pressuring for a freeze of Israeli’s development on the West Bank. In addition Netanyahu was vocal in his opposition to the Iran Nuclear Deal. He vigorously opposed the agreement between the US and Iran calling it a “bad deal”.
Before the election in 2015, Netanyahu overlooked protocol and addressed the U.S. Congress to further advocate for his opinion on U.S.-Iranian nuclear policy. Netanyahu’s speech to congress angered President Obama and his supporters who described the speech as “damaging”. Such public rebukes between the parties created notable friction between the two allies.
What’s to Come?
Netanyahu’s fourth term as Prime Minister was marred by numerous personal and political scandals. In an unprecedented move, Israeli Police revealed to the public evidence they had against the Prime Minister and his close allies. One of his former cabinet ministers has “flipped” and as part of a plea agreement has agreed to testify against Netanyahu.
Apart from the corruption charges, Netanyahu also faces charges of favored status from Yedioth Ahronoth, one of the well-known Israeli newspapers. Apparently the newspaper sabotaged a Netanyahu rival as part of a quid pro quo. Many of Netanyahu’s allies remain supportive, however many have begun to distance themselves.
The election of Donald J. Trump has returned Israel and the United States to a more supportive relationship. Trump and Netanyahu echo similar rhetoric in relationship to a nuclear Iran. Netanyahu continues to call for increased sanctions against Iran. He sees Iran as the number one threat to Israel.
Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran
Netanyahu advocates the use of force to stop any Iranian nuclear program. Less than a year into his presidency, Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The action enraged the Arab world. Most Arabs support the Palestinian claim to the eastern half of Jerusalem which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East War. These actions have rejuvenated the Israeli-U.S. relations.
Into The Future
Despite scandal swirling about Benjamin Netanyahu he continues to run for an unprecedented 5th term as Prime Minister of Israel. With the April elections looming Mr. Netanyahu is still facing corruption charges.
Won’t Go Quietly
Netanyahu has been an amazingly resilient politician. He has escaped previous close calls with corruption charges. This time it seems different. Whatever the result of the upcoming elections I am sure that “Bibi” Netanyahu will continue to make headlines, for good or bad.