Within days, the crisis seemed to have been averted. A coalition that no one much wants will lurch along, zombielike, for at least another few months (elections are due anyway by next November, when the Knesset’s term ends). And Lieberman has joined the litany of Israeli politicians who tangled with Bibi and lost. During the 2014 Gaza war, the deputy defense minister, Danny Danon, delivered his own attack on Netanyahu’s security policies, and lost his job. His next ministerial posting was as the space minister. Some Israelis quipped that Netanyahu hoped to dispatch him on a manned mission.
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If he hangs on until July, Netanyahu will surpass David Ben-Gurion, the founder of Israel, as the country’s longest-serving prime minister. He has endured not by delivering broad prosperity—owning an apartment is an impossible dream for many young people—or by tackling the religious and cultural issues that animate many Israelis. Instead he has honed a simple, Hobbesian pitch to voters: The world is dangerous, and I am the only responsible politician who can keep you safe. He is happiest dwelling on matters of security and statecraft; when forced to endure a Knesset debate about some or another domestic issue, cameras often spot him thumbing a history book or a current-affairs journal.
His foreign trips have grown almost fivefold in duration since 2014. Last year he spent more than eight weeks outside Israel. Donald Trump loves him. Populist leaders around the world, from Hungary to Brazil to the Philippines, embrace him as an ally. In October he flew to Muscat to meet the sultan of Oman, a country that has no official relations with Israel. Since 2009 the defense ministry, army, Mossad, and Shin Bet have each cycled through three different leaders. Netanyahu has been the one constant.
Nearly a decade into his current stint as prime minister (he served as premier for three years in the 1990s), Netanyahu also remains the undisputed leader of Israel’s political right. His increasing stranglehold on affairs of state (he is also nominally the health minister) denies challengers like Naftali Bennett a chance to gain stature. Bennett, the head of the religious-nationalist Jewish Home party, tried to leverage the recent Gaza crisis into an appointment as defense minister, long a stepping-stone to the premiership. Netanyahu intimidated him into dropping that demand. For years Netanyahu blocked a bill to label Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people, fearing the diplomatic consequences, only to ram it through earlier this year to shore up his right-wing support. In seeking to challenge Netanyahu, Lieberman wanted to expand his support beyond his base of right-wing Russian émigrés. Instead, he wound up a backbencher, and polls project that his party is close to losing its place in the Knesset altogether.