Benjamin Netanyahu has made history again, this time by becoming Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. He surpassed previous leadership records by: being Israel’s youngest-ever elected premier upon his first election in 1996, the first to have been born in Jewish State since its establishment, and for having served the longest consecutive terms in office.
After spending 4,867 days – more than 13 years – at the political helm, Netanyahu took the longevity title from Israel’s founding father and first leader, David Ben-Gurion. Much like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu has doubled as Defense Minister and bolstered the military as part of an uncompromising distrust of Israel’s neighbors and a doctrine of self-reliance. Long hailed by his voter base as “Mr. Security,” Netanyahu has often said he would like to be remembered as the “Protector of Israel.”
The U.S.-educated premier first entered politics after his brother, Yonatan, was killed while leading the 1976 raid to rescue hijacked Israeli hostages from Entebbe, Uganda. His first high-profile position was as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in 1984, followed by election to the Knesset with the right-wing Likud party in 1988 after which he was appointed Deputy Foreign Minister.
Netanyahu beat Shimon Peres to take on his first stint as premier, which ended in 1999 after suffering defeat by Ehud Barak in the polls. During his subsequent years in the opposition, Netanyahu filled the posts of Foreign and Finance Ministers under Ariel Sharon, but resigned after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. He then went on to win three consecutive elections – in 2009, 2013 and 2015.
Unquestionably the most dominant Israeli politician of his generation, the 69-year-old former combat veteran is seeking to break yet another record by securing an unprecedented fifth term in office in the upcoming September 17th election.
To judge from his solid approval ratings, Netanyahu has been able to deliver what Israelis want most: a flourishing economy and relative security despite the collapse of peacemaking with the Palestinians and combustible fronts with Syria and Lebanon. He has also led Israel’s successful outreach to Arab Sunni Muslim rulers who share his concerns over Iran.
After decades of experience afforded Netanyahu an international stature unrivaled by his Israeli political competitors, he is one of the few world leaders who can boast a rapport with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump. With support from the latter, Netanyahu was able to attain major statecraft goals of: Washington’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, as well as the White House withdrawal from the world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Israel’s arch regional foe Iran and the severance of aid to the Palestinian Authority over its refusal to resume peace talks that collapsed in 2014.
Despite those many accomplishments, the Likud leader and prominent world statesman was unexpectedly unable to form a new coalition government after claiming victory in the last April’s parliamentary elections, and he now serves as a caretaker prime minister. So far the polls ahead of this autumn’s “snap do-over elections” do not predict a clear winner, and Netanyahu’s political troubles are compounded by legal woes including a possible indictment in three graft cases – which the veteran leader has castigated as a witch-hunt.
No matter the outcome of the September balloting, Benjamin Netanyahu has anchored his place in Israeli history. When asked about his career milestone at a recent conference, he modestly replied, “Who’s counting?”