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Profile: Binyamin Netanyahu

Dubbed "the king of Israel", Netanyahu is likely to retain his post as prime minister after the January 22 election.
Last Modified: 17 Jan 2013 09:39
During a speech at the UN in 2012, Netanyahu called for a "red line" on Iran's nuclear programme [Reuters]

Campaiging under the slogan "a strong prime minister", Binyamin Netanyahu is considered one of Israel's most right-wing leaders.  

He became prime minister for the second time in March 2009, and analysts say he is likely to retain the post after Israel's election on January 22. How his government is organised and which parties join his coalition, however, remain to be decided. 

In 2012, Time magazine dubbed Netanyahu "the king of Israel" because of his ability to dictate policy in the country's often fractious political climate.

Known informally as "Bibi", Netanyahu sees himself as the guarantor of Israel's security. He is said to believe that serious criticism of Israeli policies towards occupied Palestine is rooted in anti-Semitism, rather than in international law or morality. 

To supporters, he is a strong spokesperson for Israel, willing to tell the public uncomfortable truths and able to stand up to enemies.

To critics such as Yuval Diskin, the former head of Israel's domestic intelligence organisation, Netanyahu holds an inflated sense of entitlement. In January, Diskin said: "At play inside Netanyahu, in my opinion, is a mix of ideology, a deep sense that he is a prince of a 'royal family' from the Jerusalem elite, alongside insecurity and a deep fear of taking responsibility."

Hardline policies

Born in Tel Aviv on October 21, 1949, Netanyahu grew up in Jerusalem but went to high school in the US, where his father taught history. His father, Benzion Netanyahu, was one of the original "Revisionist Zionists" who believed that Israel should exist on both sides of the Jordan River, rejecting compromises with neighbouring Arab states. 

On his return to Israel in 1967, Binyamin Netanyahu enlisted in the Israeli army and soon became an elite commando; he served as a captain during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

He then became a diplomat, and was appointed the deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Washington in 1982. In 1984 he was appointed Israel's ambassador to the United Nations.

"As long as I am prime minister, Iran will not have an atomic bomb... If there's no other way, Israel is ready to act [with force]."

- Binyamin Netanyahu

In 1988, Netanyahu was elected to the 12th Knesset as a member of the right-wing Likud Party, and was appointed deputy foreign minister in the cabinet of then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Rising to the post of Likud Party chairman in 1993, Netanyahu orchestrated its return to political power after its defeat in the 1992 election.

An opponent of the Labour government's peace policies, many held Netanyahu responsible for cultivating Jewish right-wing support after the 1995 assassination of Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin. Netanyahu became prime minister for the first time after elections in March 1996. 

Despite opposing most peace deals with the Palestinians, Netanyahu signed the Wye River Accords in 1998 with Yasser Arafat, who was then the president of the Palestinian National Authority.

Netanyahu later turned over most of the city of Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, over to Palestinian jurisdiction.

Parties to the right of Likud accused Netanyahu of abandoning his initial promises of taking a hard line with the Palestinians, and threatened to walk out of a coalition government.

Forced to call elections 17 months early, Netanyahu lost to Ehud Barak, then the chairman of the Labour party, in May 1999.

The embattled former prime minister would not return to government until 2002, when he was appointed foreign minister by Ariel Sharon, who became prime minister after winning in March 2001.

The two later competed for Likud's chairmanship, which Netanyahu lost. He regained his leadership of the party when Sharon left Likud to form Kadima in 2005, just before the 2006 elections.

Netanyahu became prime minister for a second time in March 2009. 

'Existential' threat?

During his first stint as prime minister, Netanyahu addressed the US Congress, telling lawmakers that "time is running out" to deal with Iran. "The deadline for attaining this goal is extremely close," he said. That was more than 16 years ago.

Today, fears over Iran's nuclear programme have been front and centre for Bibi. He does not believe leaders of the Islamic Republic are necessarily rational actors, and says Iran posses an "existential threat" to Israel. He has threatened unlitateral military action against Iran on several occasions. 

"As long as I am prime minister, Iran will not have an atomic bomb," he said in November. "If there's no other way, Israel is ready to act [with force]."

His relationship with US President Barack Obama has been described as "frosty", as Obama has, on occasion, criticised the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. 

"We will carrying on building in Jerusalem and in all the places that are on the map of Israel's strategic interests," Netanyahu said in December. 

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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