Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently serving his extended fourth term as PM, is celebrating his 70th birthday on 21 October. His birthday comes amid struggles to find a solution to a political impasse in the country, where no political force has so far been able to build a coalition government after a second election.
In his over 16 years spent in Israeli politics, 13 of them in the role of prime minister, Netanyahu has not only achieved remarkable success, but also faced numerous scandals. To mark the occasion of his 70th birthday, here's a list of Netanyahu’s biggest accomplishments and headline-making controversies:
Most Notorious Scandals:
- One of the most notorious corruption scandals in modern Israeli history centres around an alleged deal struck between the editor of one of the country's biggest newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth, and Netanyahu. The latter is suspected of promising to boost Yedioth's positions in Israel in exchange for the newspaper shifting from criticising the prime minister to giving him more favourable coverage. Netanyahu denies making such deals with Yedioth's editor, Arnon "Noni" Moses.
- Another controversial case, which has haunted the prime minister, is linked to police suspicions that Netanyahu's wife, Sara, received luxurious gifts like expensive champagne, cigars and jewellery from billionaires James Packer, and Arnon Milchan, in exchange for favours from the head of the Israeli state. However, no evidence proving that these were "quid pro quo" relations and not just gifts from friends, as the Netanyahus insist, has been found so far.
- The prime minister's name also surfaced, although not as a suspect, in another criminal investigation, called Case 3000. Netanyahu's cousin and personal lawyer, David Shimron, is suspected of lobbying the country's Defence Ministry into buying submarines and corvettes from German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp. Former Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon claimed that the prime minister had facilitated this deal, but the latter denies these allegations.
- Likewise, Netanyahu landed in hot water over an investigation into Director General of the Communications Ministry and prime minister's aide, Shlomo Filber, who allegedly leaked confidential documents to the country's telecom giant, Bezeq. Netanyahu himself is suspected of hiding his personal ties to Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, although the prime minister denies being his friend.
- The head of the Israeli state also suffered a blow when his wife, Sara Netanyahu, was accused of misusing public funds to order catered meals without due authorisation. After a years-long investigation and trial she pleaded guilty and was ruled to pay a fine, while fraud charges against her were dropped.
- Despite numerous controversies, Benjamin Netanyahu is also known for achieving a lot throughout his political career. During his time as Minister of Finance between 2003 and 2005 he introduced major economic reforms, which slashed excessive regulations and taxes on businesses, while privatising many state-controlled companies. His actions resulted in an unprecedented boost to a previously stagnating economy, with annual GDP growth rising from near zero to 6% over the course of 5 years and unemployment dropping from 13% to 4%.
- The prime minister has also achieved major success in the foreign policy arena by securing US support for two of Israel's territorial ambitions – for all of Jerusalem as its capital, also claimed by the Palestinian Autonomy, and for sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War.
- These achievements became possible due to Netanyahu significantly improving ties with Washington after they deteriorated under the Obama administration. This change in heart is widely speculated to have led to President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and impose sanctions against the Islamic Republic, something that Netanyahu gladly welcomed.
- One of the major focuses of Netanyahu's domestic policy has been ensuring the security of Israeli citizens, sparing no effort or resources for that cause – something that the prime minister managed to achieve to some degree. He’s most notably negotiated numerous ceasefires with Hamas, while the IDF under his command has destroyed a system of underground tunnels supposedly used by militants to covertly infiltrate Israel.
Netanyahu has failed to secure a clear win in two elections since April, as his Likud party ceded first place to its main rival, the Blue and White Alliance, in the latest vote in September, having so far been unable to gain enough support to build a coalition government. Israeli President Rivlin has proposed putting together a unity government between Netanyahu and his chief rival, Benny Gantz, but negotiations are currently stalled.