Profile: Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu (May 2011)

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Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister of Israel for the third time in January 2013. He was already in office when he was re-elected, although his right-wing Likud party (in alliance with Yisrael Beiteinu) was returned with fewer seats than before.

Mr Netanyahu brought the big winners of the election - the centrist Yesh Atid and ultra-nationalist Bayit Yehudi, parties with strongly divergent views on key issues, such as Palestinian statehood - into his coalition.

Relations with the Palestinians have so far dominated his third term, shifting from renewed peace talks which collapsed in acrimony, to war with militants in Gaza just three months later.

Military record

Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv in 1949. In 1963 his family moved to the US when his father Benzion, the historian and Zionist activist, was offered an academic post there.

Benjamin Netanyahu photographed while serving in the Sayeret Matkal commando unit in the 1970s Mr Netanyahu was a captain of the elite Sayeret Matkal command unit

At the age of 18, Benjamin Netanyahu returned to Israel, where he spent five distinguished years in the army, serving as a captain in an elite commando unit, the Sayeret Matkal. He took part in a raid on Beirut's airport in 1968 and fought in the 1973 Middle East war.

After his military service ended, Mr Netanyahu went back to the US, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

In 1976, Mr Netanyahu's brother, Jonathan, was killed leading a raid to rescue hostages from a hijacked airliner in Entebbe, Uganda. His death had a profound impact on the Netanyahu family, and his name became legendary in Israel.

Mr Netanyahu set up an anti-terrorism institute in his brother's memory, and caught the attention of the then Israeli ambassador to the US and future foreign minister, Moshe Arens. In 1982, Mr Arens made Benjamin Netanyahu his deputy chief of mission in Washington.

Overnight, Mr Netanyahu's public life was launched. An impeccable and eloquent English speaker with a distinctive America accent, he became a familiar face on US television and an effective advocate of the Israeli cause.

Mr Netanyahu was then appointed Israel's permanent representative at the UN in New York in 1984.

Oslo critic

Only in 1988, when he returned to Israel, did he become involved in domestic politics, winning a seat in the Knesset (parliament) and becoming deputy foreign minister.

Politically, Benjamin Netanyahu positioned himself to the right of previous leaders of Likud. After Likud lost the 1992 general election, he became party chairman.

In 1996, he became Israel's first directly elected prime minister after narrowly beating the incumbent, Shimon Peres, who had called early polls following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Mr Netanyahu was also Israel's youngest prime minister and the first to be born after the state was founded in 1948.

Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Yasser Arafat in 1997 Mr Netanyahu was heavily criticised by right-wing Israelis when he signed a deal with Yasser Arafat

His first term was brief but dramatic, beset by divisions in his coalition.

Despite having fiercely criticised the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, in 1997 Mr Netanyahu signed a deal handing over 80% of Hebron to Palestinian Authority control and signed the Wye River Memorandum in 1998 outlining further withdrawals from the West Bank.

This alienated his supporters on the right. At the same time, he did not bend sufficiently to keep the support of those in Israel who favoured a land-for-peace deal. His critics said a more seasoned politician could have avoided many of the difficulties in the first place.

Mr Netanyahu survived rather than prospered, and lost office in 1999 after he called elections 17 months early. He was defeated by Labour leader Ehud Barak, Mr Netanyahu's former commander, who promised to push for a permanent peace deal and withdraw from southern Lebanon.

"Bibi didn't succeed in his first term. He wasn't a very good Prime Minister," Benzion Netanyahu - a strong ideological influence on his son - told Maariv newspaper. "At the time, I was shocked to see how he defeated [Prime Minister] Shimon Peres who was a well-known personality, while Bibi was just a young man. I was sure he would be defeated. But I think he learned from his mistakes."

Political revival

Mr Netanyahu resigned as a Member of the Knesset and chairman of Likud following the election loss. He was succeeded as Likud leader by Ariel Sharon.

After Mr Sharon was elected prime minister in 2001, Mr Netanyahu returned to government, first as foreign minister and then as finance minister. In 2005, he resigned in protest at the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Life and times

1949: Born in Tel Aviv

1967-73: Serves as soldier and commando captain

1984: Becomes ambassador to UN

1988: Enters Knesset and cabinet

1996: Becomes prime minister

1999: Loses election

2002-03: Serves as foreign minister

Feb 2003 to Aug 2005: Serves as finance minister; resigns over withdrawal from Gaza

December 2005: Wins back the leadership of Likud party

March 2009: Becomes prime minister

Jan 2013: Re-elected

His chance came again in 2005, when Mr Sharon - just before a massive stroke that left him in a coma - split from Likud and set up a new centrist party, Kadima.

Mr Netanyahu won the Likud leadership and was a trenchant critic of the Kadima-led coalition and Mr Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert.

Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister for the second time in March 2009, and governed with an alliance of mainly right-wing, nationalist and religious parties (before later forming a national unity coalition).

Mr Netanyahu's government was criticised by some in the international community for not renewing a partial freeze on Jewish settlement-building and possibly avoiding a collapse in peace talks with the Palestinians in late 2010.

Benjamin Netanyahu has pursued a tough line towards peace negotiations, accepting the principle of a two-state solution but insisting the Palestinians accept Israel as a "Jewish state" and make reciprocal concessions.

A shrewd political operator, Mr Netanyahu called early elections for January 2013, hoping to capitalise on high approval ratings in polls and his record for being tough on security issues.

US tensions

Weeks after parliament was dissolved Mr Netanyahu ordered a major offensive against militants in Gaza after an escalation of rocket-fire into Israel. He called off the operation without sending in ground troops, with all the risks that would entail, and the eight-day operation was widely regarded in Israel as a success.

However, after a relative lull, cross-border violence flared again and after a surge of rocket attacks in July 2014, Mr Netanyahu launched another offensive on Gaza with the stated aim of restoring long-term quiet for Israel.

The Palestinian and Israeli death tolls have exceeded the previous conflicts, and while the offensive has been solidly supported in Israel, the Jewish state has been rebuked by its closest ally, the United States, for the scale of Palestinian civilian casualties.

Political differences with US President Barack Obama has meant a difficult working relationship between the two leaders. Mr Obama once complained of having to "deal with him [Netanyahu] every day", in remarks inadvertently overheard by journalists.

For his part, on a separate occasion, Mr Netanyahu, in an apparent rebuke to the US, said some countries did not have a "moral right" to tell Israel what to do about Iran.

Mr Netanyahu has taken a hard line towards Iran, repeatedly warning of the danger to the international community of allowing it to develop nuclear weapons.

He has called for much tougher sanctions against the Iranian regime, seeing it as the number one threat to Israel, and indicated his willingness to use force to stop Iran's nuclear programme if all else fails.

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