Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu (Hebrew: בִּנְיָמִין “בִּיבִּי” נְתַנְיָהוּ, Arabic: بنيامين نتنياهو; born 21 October 1949) is an Israeli politician and the current Prime Minister of Israel. He serves also as a member of the Knesset, the Chairman of the Likud party, Foreign Affairs Minister and Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs. Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister born in Israel after the establishment of the state.
Netanyahu joined the Israel Defense Forces during the Six-Day War in 1967, and became a team leader in the Sayeret Matkal special forces unit. He took part in many missions, including Operation Gift (1968) and Operation Isotope (1972), during which he was shot in the shoulder. He fought on the front lines in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, taking part in special forces raids along the Suez Canal, and then leading a commando assault deep into Syrian territory. He achieved the rank of captain before being discharged. Netanyahu served as the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988, member of the Likud party, and was Prime Minister from June 1996 to July 1999. He moved from the political arena to the private sector after being defeated in the 1999 election for Prime Minister by Ehud Barak.
Netanyahu returned to politics in 2002 as Foreign Affairs Minister (2002–2003) and Finance Minister (2003–2005) in Ariel Sharon’s governments, but he departed the government over disagreements regarding the Gaza disengagement plan. He retook the Likud leadership in December 2005, after Sharon left to form a new party. In the 2006 election, Likud did poorly, winning 12 seats. In December 2006, Netanyahu became the official Leader of the Opposition in the Knesset and Chairman of Likud. In 2007, he retained the Likud leadership by beating Moshe Feiglin in party elections. Following the 2009 parliamentary election, in which Likud placed second and right-wing parties won a majority, Netanyahu formed a coalition government.After the victory in the 2013 elections, he became second person to be elected to the position of Prime Minister for a third term, after Israel’s founder David Ben-Gurion.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s older brother, Yonatan Netanyahu, commander of Sayeret Matkal, was killed in 1976 while commanding an Operation Entebbe. The younger brother, Iddo Netanyahu, is a playwright. Their father, Benzion Netanyahu, was a prominent Israeli historian.
From the inception of the Oslo accords, Netanyahu opposed them. During his term as prime minister in the late 1990s, Netanyahu consistently reneged on commitments made by previous Israeli governments as part of the Oslo peace process, leading American peace envoy Dennis Ross to note that “neither President Clinton nor Secretary [of State Madeleine] Albright believed that Bibi had any real interest in pursuing peace.”
In a 2001 video, Netanyahu, reportedly unaware he was being recorded, said: “They asked me before the election if I’d honor [the Oslo Accords],” “I said I would, but … I’m going to interpret the accords in such a way that would allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the ’67 borders. How did we do it? Nobody said what defined military zones were. Defined military zones are security zones; as far as I’m concerned, the entire Jordan Valley is a defined military zone. Go argue.”
However, this is clearly consistent with Yitzhak Rabin’s October 1995 statement to the Knesset on the ratification of the interim Oslo agreement:
“B. The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”
Prior to second term as Prime Minister
Netanyahu had previously called U.S.-backed peace talks a waste of time, while at the same time refusing to commit to the same two-state solution as had other Israeli leaders, until a speech in June 2009. He repeatedly made public statements which advocated an “economic peace” approach, meaning an approach based on economic cooperation and joint effort rather than continuous contention over political and diplomatic issues. This is in line with many significant ideas from the Peace Valley plan. He raised these ideas during discussions with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Netanyahu continued to advocate these ideas as the Israeli elections approached. Netanyahu has said:
Right now, the peace talks are based on only one thing, only on peace talks. It makes no sense at this point to talk about the most contractible issue. It’s Jerusalem or bust, or right of return or bust. That has led to failure and is likely to lead to failure again … We must weave an economic peace alongside a political process. That means that we have to strengthen the moderate parts of the Palestinian economy by handing rapid growth in those areas, rapid economic growth that gives a stake for peace for the ordinary Palestinians.”
In January 2009, prior to the February 2009 Israeli elections Netanyahu informed Middle East envoy Tony Blair that he would continue the policy of the Israeli governments of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert by expanding settlements in the West Bank, in contravention of the Road Map, but not building new ones.
On 20 February 2009, after being asked to be the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu described Iran as the greatest threat that Israel has ever faced: “Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence.”
Speaking before the UN General Assembly in New York on 24 September 2009, Netanyahu expressed a different opinion than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at the forum, saying those who believe Tehran is a threat only to Israel are wrong. “The Iranian regime”, he said, “is motivated by fanaticism … They want to see us go back to medieval times. The struggle against Iran pits civilization against barbarism. This Iranian regime is fueled by extreme fundamentalism.”
“By focusing solely on Iran,” columnist Yossi Melman speculated that Netanyahu’s foreign policy, “… took the Palestinian issue off the world agenda.” After four days of shelling from the Iranian-funded Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Melman asked, “Is it worth initiating a crisis with Iran? Will the Israeli public be able to cope with Iran’s response?”
Netanyahu is reported to have formed a close, confidential relationship with Defense Minister Ehud Barak as the two men consider possible Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The pair were accused of acting on “messianic” impulses by Yuval Diskin, former head of the Shin Bet, who added that their warmongering rhetoric appealed to “the idiots within the Israeli public”. Diskin’s remarks were supported by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who himself had previously said that an attack on Iran was “the stupidest thing I have ever heard”. A few weeks later, the RAND Corporation (a leading American think tank that advises the Pentagon) also openly disagreed with Netanyahu’s belligerent stance: “In doing so, and without naming names, RAND sided with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former head of the Shin Bet Yuval Diskin.”
In an 8 March 2007 interview with CNN, Netanyahu asserted that there is only one difference between Nazi Germany and the Islamic Republic of Iran, namely that the first entered a worldwide conflict and then sought atomic weapons, while the latter is first seeking atomic weapons and, once it has them, will then start a world war. Netanyahu repeated these remarks at a news conference in April 2008. This was similar to earlier remarks that “… it’s 1938, and Iran is Germany, and Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs”.
In 2012, he used the opening ceremony for Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day to warn against the dangers of an Iranian nuclear bomb, saying he was following the example of Jewish leaders during World War II who struggled to raise the alarm about the Nazis’ genocidal intentions. Israeli academic Avner Cohen accused Netanyahu of showing “contempt” for the Holocaust by putting it to “political use”, and former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami similarly condemned Netanyahu’s “vulgar manipulation of the memory of the Holocaust”.
Immediately after the 2012 Burgas bus bombing, Netanyahu confirmed that the attack had been undertaken in coordination with Iran.
Netanyahu stated during a 29 July meeting that, in his opinion, “all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian programme by one iota.” And in August he stated that the United States only might respond to a massive attack against Israel.
On 28 September 2012, Netanyahu gave a speech to the UN General Assembly in which he set forward a “red line” of 90% uranium enrichment, stating that if Iran were to reach this level, it would become an intolerable risk for Israel. Netanyahu used a cartoon graphic of a bomb to illustrate his point, indicating three stages of uranium enrichment, noting that Iran had already completed the first stage, and stating that “By next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, [Iran] will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage. From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb.” Netanyahu delivered his speech the day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, a presentation that the American, Canadian, and Israeli delegations had deliberately not attended.