Page last updated at 12:43 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Profile: Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu
Netanyahu has a talent for political survival

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the most right-wing and controversial leaders in Israel's history.

He became premier in March 2009 for the second time, after becoming the youngest person to hold the post in 1996.

Three years later he lost office after defeat at the polls to Labour.

He subsequently lost the Likud leadership to Ariel Sharon, though he served as a sometimes rancorous member of Mr Sharon's cabinet.

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

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


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Mr Olmert became engulfed in a mire of sleaze allegations and was unable to win back credibility or popularity after the disastrous 2006 Lebanon war.

The Israeli military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, launched in late December 2008, slightly narrowed Mr Netanyahu's lead over his rivals in the 10 February election.

Although Kadima narrowly defeated Likud in the poll, it was Mr Netanyahu who President Shimon Peres asked to form the next government.

Land for peace

Mr Netanyahu's three-year premiership was brief but dramatic.

His election, by the narrowest of margins, represented a major turning point in Israeli politics.

Known as Bibi to his friends and enemies alike, he was the first Israeli leader to be born after the creation of the Jewish state.

Politically, he positioned himself to the right of previous leaders of the secular centre-right Likud Party.


A look at the career of Benjamin Netanyahu

To his supporters, he came across as young, handsome, energetic, articulate in English and a master of how to handle the Western media.

But as prime minister, Mr Netanyahu, who had said he would not give up land controlled by Israel for peace, did just that under US pressure.

Despite his antagonism towards a peace process that might lead to the creation of a Palestinian state he handed over 80% of Hebron in January 1997 to Palestinian Authority control and signed the Wye River Memorandum on 23 October 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 with the Arabs.

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 May 1999 after he called elections 17 months early.

Life in US

Mr Netanyahu's inexperience reflected his fast rise to power and his long sojourns away from the ruthless and rowdy world of Israeli politics.

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
2002-3: Serves as foreign minister
Feb 2003 to Aug 2005: Serves as finance minister, resigning over withdrawal from Gaza
December 2005: Wins back the leadership of the Likud party
March 2009: Becomes prime minister

When he was a teenager, his family moved to the US where he completed his education.

Back in Israel, he spent five distinguished years in the army, serving as a captain in an elite commando unit.

His brother, Jonathan, became a posthumous hero when he was killed leading a raid against a hijacked airliner in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.

Out of the military, Mr Netanyahu returned to the US, taking courses at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1981, he secured a post in the Israeli embassy in Washington, where his friend and future Israeli Foreign Minister, Moshe Arens, was ambassador.

Overnight, Mr Netanyahu's public life was launched.

He became a familiar face on US television and an effective advocate of the Israeli cause.

Mr Netanyahu was equally successful in this respect while serving as Israel's ambassador at the United Nations.

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

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