In what appear to be the last days of his historic 12-year reign, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not leaving the political scene quietly.
The leader always accuses his opponents of betraying their constituents, and some need special security protection.
Netanyahu said he is the victim of a “deep-seated” conspiracy. He speaks in apocalyptic terms when he speaks of the country without its leadership.
“They are eradicating the good and replacing it with the bad and dangerous ones,” Netanyahu told the conservative TV station Channel 20 this week. “I fear the fate of the nation.”
Such a language has made tense days since Netanyahu and his loyalists made one last desperate push to try to prevent a new government from taking office on Sunday. With his options final, he also provided a preview of Netanyahu as the leader of the opposition.
For those who have seen Netanyahu dominate Israeli politics for most of the last quarter century, his recent behavior is well known.
He often describes large and small threats in strict terms. He defeated his rivals and prospered using divisive and conquering tactics. He portrays his Jewish opponents as weak, hateful of the “left,” and Arab politicians as a potential fifth pillar of terrorist sympathizers.
He regularly presents himself in grand terms as the only person capable of leading the country through its endless security challenges.
“Under his term, identity policies are at an all-time high,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israeli Institute of Democracy, a non-partisan think-tank.
It’s a formula that has served Netanyahu well. He led the Likud right-wing party with an iron fist for more than 15 years, accumulating a series of electoral victories that earned him the nickname, “King Bibi”.
He defended President Barack Obama’s pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians and publicly challenged him in 2015 by giving a speech to Congress against the US-led nuclear deal with Iran.
Although Netanyahu has not been able to block the deal, he has been rewarded by President Donald Trump, who recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, pulled out of the nuclear deal and helped the broker diplomatic pacts between Israel and four Arab nations.
Netanyahu has led what appears to be a very successful shadow war against Iran while maintaining Israel’s long-standing conflict with the slowly boiling Palestinians, except for three brief wars with Hamas leaders in Gaza.
Plesner said the situation with the Palestinians today is “remarkably the same” as when Netanyahu took office. “No major change in any direction, no annexation and no diplomatic advance.”
But some of Netanyahu’s tactics now seem to be chasing him again. The new U.S. Biden administration has been fresh for the Israeli leader, while Netanyahu’s close relationship with Trump has alienated large segments of the Democratic Party.
At home, Netanyahu’s magic is also gone – largely because of his trial for corruption charges. It launched an ever-growing list of perceived enemies: the media, the judiciary, the police, the centrists, the left and even the tough nationalists who were once close allies.
In four consecutive elections since 2019, Netanyahu, once invincible, has not been able to secure a parliamentary majority. Faced with the unattractive possibility of a fifth consecutive election, eight parties have managed to rally a majority coalition that will take office on Sunday.
Israeli politics is usually divided between left-wing, left-wing parties seeking a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians, and religious and nationalist parties – long led by Netanyahu – that oppose Palestinian independence. If one of the recent elections had focused on the conflict, then the right-wing parties alone had formed a strong and stable majority.
But the Palestinians didn’t come close – another legacy of Netanyahu, who pushed the issue to the sidelines.
Instead, all he seemed to talk about was Netanyahu’s personality and his legal problems, which turned out to be deeply polarizing. The incoming government includes three small parties led by former Netanyahu aides who have had bitter ruptures with him, including the alleged prime minister, Naftali Bennett.
Bennett and his right-wing colleagues have also shared a long-standing taboo on alliances with Arab parties. A little Islamist party, which Netanyahu had also courted, will be the first to join a governing coalition.
Netanyahu and his followers in Likud have become increasingly desperate. Initially, Netanyahu tried to attract some “deserters” from his former allies to prevent them from securing a parliamentary majority.
When he failed, he resorted to a language similar to that of his friend and benefactor Trump.
“We are witnessing the biggest electoral fraud in the country’s history,” Netanyahu said at a Likud meeting this week. He has long portrayed the corruption process as a “witch hunt” fueled by “false news”, and in the television interview said he was being persecuted by the “deep state”.
His supporters have made threatening demonstrations outside the homes of lawmakers joining the new government. Some lawmakers say they and their families have received death threats, and one said she was recently followed by a mysterious car.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox partners have launched Bennett into a threat to his religion, even one calling him to take off his kippah, the hood worn by vigilant Jews.
The online incitement by Netanyahu’s followers has become so bad that many members of the incoming government have been assigned bodyguards or even transferred to secret places.
Some Israelis have compared the tensions that led to the uprising at the U.S. Capitol in January, while others have pointed to incitement ahead of the 1995 assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
In a rare public statement, Nadav Argaman, the head of Shin Bet’s internal security agency, recently warned of a “serious growth and radicalization in the violent and inciting discourse” on social media that he said he could lead to violence.
Netanyahu condemned the incitement while noting that he was also a target.
At the end of Thursday, Netanyahu’s Likud party posted a statement on Twitter in English saying that its fraudulent comments were not directed at the vote-counting process and that it has “full confidence” in this. . “There is also no question about the peaceful transition of power,” he said.
Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Jewish University, said she expects the next few months to remain volatile.
“We will see a very assertive and aggressive opposition leader, namely Netanyahu, determined to ensure that this coalition of change is short-lived and that we will have other elections as soon as possible,” he said. added.
“We don’t even have a memory of what normal politics looks like,” Talshir said.