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Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu

(1949 - )

Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu is a former Israeli special forces commando, diplomat and politician. He is currently the 17th Prime Minister of Israel.

Netanyahu (born October 21, 1949) was born in Tel Aviv, grew up in Jerusalem and spent his adolescent years in the United States, where his father - a noted historian - taught Jewish history in Philadelphia.

In 1967, at the age of 18, Netanyahu returned to Israel to fulfill his military obligations in the Israel Defense Forces and volunteered for an elite commando unit. During his service, he participated in a number of daring operations including Operation Gift during the War of Attrition that freed hostages from a hijacked Sabena Airlines aircraft being held in Beirut, Lebanon. Netanyahu was wounded during this operation. He was discharged from the IDF after six years of service having attained the rank of captain following the Yom Kippur War.

Following his discharge, Netanyahu studied at MIT in Boston and received a B.S. in architecture and an M.S. in Management Studies. He also studied political science at MIT and Harvard University. In 1976, he was employed by the Boston Consulting Group, an international business consulting firm, where he befriended future American Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.  Netanyahu later joined the management of Rim Industries in Jerusalem.

Much affected by the death of his eldest brother Yoni Netanyahu - who had famously fallen while commanding the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation to free the passengers of an Air France airliner held hostage in Uganda - Bibi initiated and organized two international conferences on ways to combat international terrorism - in 1979 in Jerusalem and 1984 in Washington, DC. These forums attracted key political figures and opinion-makers in the international community.

In 1982, Netanyahu joined Israel's diplomatic mission in the United States - serving for two years as Deputy Chief of Mission under then-Ambassador Moshe Arens. He was also a member of the first delegation to the talks on strategic cooperation between Israel and the United States. In 1984, Netanyahu was appointed Israel's ambassador to the United Nations and held this position for four years. As U.N. ambassador, Netanyahu led the effort that opened the U.N. Nazi War Crimes Archives in 1987. An articulate speaker, forceful debater, and media-oriented diplomat, he played a key role in efforts to enhance Israel's image and improve understanding of the country's security needs among the "movers and shakers" in American public life.

After returning to Israel in 1988, Netanyahu entered the political arena and was elected a Member of Knesset through the Likud party and was appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. He served in this position for four years, marked by the First Intifada; the 1991 Gulf War; and the Madrid Peace Conference, which initiated the first direct negotiations between Israel and Syria, Lebanon, and a joint Jordanian­Palestinian delegation.

On March 25, 1993, Netanyahu was elected Chairman of the Likud Party and its candidate for Prime Minister. He led the political opposition in the period prior to and following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin - a time characterized by volatile public debate on basic issues, sparked by controversy over ramifications of the Oslo agreements and escalating Palestinian terrorism.

In 1996, in the first direct elections of an Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu defeated incumbent Labor candidate Shimon Peres, and became the thirteenth Prime Minister of the State of Israel (9th individual). He served in the position until the May 1999 elections when Labor Party leader Ehud Barak won the premiereship.

After completing his term as Prime Minister, Netanyahu served as a business consultant to Israeli high-tech companies and was a popular speaker on the global lecture circuit. In 2002, he returned to politics, first as Minister of Foreign Affairs (November 2002 - February 2003) and then as Minister of Finance until August 2005.

In February 2009, following the elections to the 18th Knesset, Netanyahu's Likud Party won the second most seats, however he was eventually given the charge of forming a coalition government since the Kadima Party, under the leadership of Tzipi Livni, could not secure a majority.

Netanyahu's second prime ministership was marked most notably by a divisive relationship with American President Barack Obama and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. In May 2011, Netanyahu spoke before a joint session of the U.S. Congress and voiced his support for the creation of a Palestinian state, noting however that such a state would have to be demilitarized and could only be formed through direct, bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In October 2012, Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, announced the merger of their two parties and that they would run on a joint ticket in the January 2013 general elections. During those elections, the Likud-Beiteinu partnership garnered a plurality of 31 seats and in March 2013, Netanyahu formed a majority coalition with the Yesh Atid Party (Yair Lapid) and The Jewish Home (Naftali Bennett). This 33rd government was sworn in on March 18, 2013 with Netanyahu holding the Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affiars and Minister of Public Affairs portfolios.

A report into the spending of Prime Minister Netanyahu prepared by State ComptrollerYosef Shapira was released on February 17, 2015.  Included in the report are records of extravagant spending by the Prime Minister and his wife at their official residence, such as $18,000 spent on takeout food in a single year, despite the fact that they are provided with a personal chef with a full staff at their residence.  The Netanyahu's reportedly also spent $2,120 per month cleaning their beach home, and the cleaning costs at their main residence in Jerusalem mysteriously doubled to over $300,000 between 2009 and 2013.  Included in the report as well are allegations that government employees were asked to pay out of pocket for many of the Prime Minister's personal expenses, and were not reimbursed. Yosef Shapira wrote in the summary of his report that, “The meaning of a failure to pay back these invoices from petty cash is that employees absorb the cost of private expenditures of the Prime Minister or his family.  When an employee is forced to pay from his own pocket for an expenditure by the Prime Minister, this is improper administration and it makes no difference whether the sum is large or small.”  Shapira concluded that, “The way in which the budget of the prime minister’s residence was managed during the years 2009 until 2012 does not comply with the basic principles of money management, saving and efficiency and is likely to result in a waste of public funds.” 

In a last ditch attempt to squeeze out as many far-right votes as he could, Netanyahu stated during an interview the day before the March 2015 election that there was no chance of the establishment of a Palestinian state while he remained Prime Minister. Netanyahu had previously hinted that he would be in favor of a two state solution, with an independent Palestinian state existing alongside Israel. In an interview with the Israeli news organization NRG, Netanyahu made his opinion clear, that “whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel.” When asked if that meant that no Palestinian state would be established while he was Prime Minister, he responded “indeed.” In the days immediately following the election Netanyahu backtracked on these words, stating in an interview on MSNBC that he is in fact committed to Palestinian statehood, but only if the conditions in the Middle East improve. Netanyahu stated that he “hasn't changed [his] policy” from his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University.

Benjamin Netanyahu declared victory over his political rivals as the last of the votes came in on the morning of March 18. The Likud party received enough votes for at least 29 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, with the Zionist Union camp coming in second place, receiving enough votes for approximately 24. Netanyahu's last minute appeals to right wing voters paid off, leaving them energized and ready to hit the polls.

Benjamin Netanyahu has written a number of books that appeared in Hebrew and English, with some also translated into Russian, French, Arabic, Japanese and other languages, among them Self Portrait of a Hero: From the Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu 1963-1976 (edited 1978), International Terrorism: Challenge and Response (edited 1979), Terrorism: How the West Can Win  (edited 1987); A Durable Peace: Israel and Its Place Among the Nations (1992); and Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism (1996).

Benjamin Netanyahu is married to Sara, a psychologist, and is a father of three, Noa, Yair, and Avner.

Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Wikipedia; The Gaurdian (February 17, 2015); Reuters (March 16, 2015); New York Times (March 17, 2015); Yahoo News (March 19, 2015)