Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister(1949–)
Benjamin Netanyahu is best known for his service as prime minister of Israel.


Benjamin Netanyahu was born on October 21, 1949, in Tel Aviv, Israel. He joined the Israeli military in 1967, moving into the special operations force that rescued a hijacked airplane at the Tel Aviv airport in 1972. Netanyahu became leader of the right-wing Likud party in 1993 and has gone on to serve as prime minister for multiple terms, winning reelection in 2015 in a tense campaign.


Benjamin Netanyahu was born on October 21, 1949, in Tel Aviv, Israel and grew up in Jerusalem. He spent most of his teen years living in the Philadelphia area, where his father, noted Jewish historian Benzion Netanyahu, worked as a professor. In 1967, he returned to Israel to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces' elite unit, "Sayeret Matkal," and took part in a number of military operations, including the dramatic 1972 rescue of a hijacked Sabena passenger jet. Codenamed "Operation Isotope," the rescue was led by future Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Diplomatic Work

Netanyahu returned to the United States that same year and went on to receive degrees in architecture and business administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1976, he was employed by the Boston Consulting Group, but returned to Israel following the death of Yoni, his eldest brother, who was killed attempting to free hostages from a hijacked Air France airliner in Uganda. Netanyahu became highly involved in international counterterrorism efforts, which helped launch his political career: first serving in the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. (1982-84), then serving as the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations (1984-88). During his time at the U.N., he successfully led a campaign to declassify U.N. archives on Nazi war crimes.

Political Success

In 1988, Netanyahu was elected a member of the Knesset (Israel's parliament) by the right-wing Likud Party and served as deputy minister for foreign affairs. Five years later, he was elected chairman of the Likud Party and its prime minister candidate. In 1996, he was elected prime minister of Israel, defeating incumbent Labor candidate Shimon Peres. Netanyahu served as prime minister until 1999. During his term, he signed the Hebron and Wye Accords, advancing the peace process with the Palestinians. He also expanded government privatization, liberalized currency regulations and reduced deficits.

After resigning from the Knesset following his election loss to his former commander Barak, Netanyahu worked in the private sector and toured on the lecture circuit. But in 2002, he returned to politics, serving as minister of foreign affairs before becoming minister of finance. On March 31, 2009, he was sworn in as prime minister for the second time, punctuating his victory by establishing a national unity government and calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. In his famous June 2009 address to Bar-Ilan University, he said, "I told President Obama in Washington, if we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state."

Objections to Nuclear Program 

However, Netanyahu found himself at odds with the United States in November 2013. He objected to the deal reached between the U.S. and Iran regarding Iran's nuclear program. The agreement calls for Iran to reduce or suspend its efforts to enrich uranium in exchange for a loosing of existing sanctions. According to CNN, Netanyahu considers this deal to be "a historic mistake." He said that it is "taking only cosmetic steps which it could reverse easily within a few weeks, and in return, sanctions that took years to put in place are going to be eased."

2014 saw great turmoil for the region, with conflict escalating rapidly during the summer between Palestinian military group Hamas and Israel after the killing of three teenagers. The Gaza region was targeted by Israeli forces as a Hamas stronghold, with thousands of rockets fired and international outcry ensuing over the destruction and massive loss of civilian life. In December of that year, Netanyahu fired two of his cabinet members, citing their critiques of the government, and initiated the dissolution of the coalition parliament, with new elections to be held in March of the next year.

In early March 2015, two weeks before his country's elections, Netanyahu addressed a highly partisan U.S. Congress to further critique America's policy on Iran's nuclear program. President Obama continued to defend the plan, with the two leaders having notably different stances on what the end goal for Iran's weapons capabilities should be.  

Reelection Amid Controversy

Netanyahu won his country's mid-March elections, defeating Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union alliance, who focused more on domestic issues during his campaign. The Likud party earned 30 parliamentary suits and is geared to be the head of a coalition government. Further controversy arose with analysts critiquing the leader's use of anti-Arab rhetoric as voters went to the polls (for which he later apologized), with Netanyahu having also made wavering comments about supporting the creation of a Palestinian state. With much international outcry looming, he clarified his statements immediately after the elections and said a two-state solution is still on the table.

Personal Life

Netanyahu has a wife, Sara, a child psychologist. They have two children together: Yair and Avner. Netanyahu also has a daughter, Noa, from a previous marriage that ended in 1978. He has written and edited several books, many of which are on the subject of terrorism: Self-Portrait of a Hero: The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu (1963-76); International Terrorism: Challenge and Response (1979); Terrorism: How the West Can Win (1987); A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World (1992); Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic; and International Terrorism (1996).

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