'Bye bye Bibi': Netanyahu's luck runs out after 12-year tenure

Former Israeli prime minister's record reign has come to an end

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Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, has always managed to defeat threats to his power, until an unlikely alliance of rivals ended his reign on Sunday.

Mr Netanyahu, 71, widely known as Bibi, clung to power for a record 12 straight years through several conflicts and a long period of political turmoil.

That was despite being on trial for alleged fraud, bribery and breach of trust, charges he denies.

A hawkish heavyweight, he repeatedly convinced voters only he could keep Israel safe from threats, including Palestinian militants and Iran.

In his last year in office, Mr Netanyahu signed normalisation agreements with four Arab states and unrolled a world-beating Covid-19 vaccination campaign.

But his troubles mounted in March, when he failed again to achieve a conclusive result in Israel's fourth election in less than two years.

On Sunday, his fall was made official when a coalition crafted by centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid and joined by right-wing nationalist and former Netanyahu ally Naftali Bennett narrowly won a vote of confidence in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

The coalition of parties, ranging from pro-settlement hardliners to conservative Arabs and secular Jewish liberals, was united by its disdain for Mr Netanyahu.

The veteran fought to the end, urging his supporters to keep up pressure on right-wing defectors, in the hope of luring them back to his camp.

Mr Netanyahu is the son of a historian who was active in right-wing Zionist groups, an ideological inheritance that helped to shape his political career.

Mr Netanyahu told the World Holocaust Forum last year that Jewish people must "always take seriously the threats of those who seek our destruction".

He told Israelis "to confront threats even when they are small and, above all, to always have the power to defend ourselves by ourselves".

Mr Netanyahu has two sons with his wife Sara and a daughter from a previous marriage.

His brother, Yonatan, was the only Israeli soldier killed in a 1976 commando raid to free hostages at Uganda's Entebbe airport.

Mr Netanyahu was marked deeply by the operation, which he called "a very dramatic national experience" and "one of great personal consequence".

He was raised partly in the US and graduated from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mr Netanyahu's fluent English made him a fixture on US television, defending Israeli policies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, exposure that raised his profile at home and abroad.

He became the Likud party's leader in 1993 and led it to victory as Israel's youngest-ever prime minister in 1996, aged 46.

Mr Netanyahu lost power in 1999, but regained it 10 years later, holding on even as he became the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office.

He is accused of improperly accepting gifts and seeking to trade regulatory favours with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage, allegations he denies.

Mr Netanyahu did not engage in peace talks with the Palestinians. He oversaw a boom in expansion of Israel's West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.

Last month, weeks of tensions between Israel and the Palestinians set off an 11-day exchange of rocket fire from Gaza and devastating Israeli air strikes, which ended with a May 21 truce.

The fighting, and violence in the occupied West Bank and mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli towns, initially appeared to strengthen Mr Netanyahu's grip on power.

But political scientist Gayil Talshir at the Hebrew University said it pushed him into "a desperate position".

Mr Netanyahu, who has long promoted himself as "Mr Security", often warned of the threat posed by the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

But the centrepiece of his foreign policy was thwarting the nuclear weapons programme of Hezbollah backer Iran, which he calls the greatest threat to the Jewish people since Nazi Germany.

On occasion, he also angered Israel's allies. In 2015 he addressed a joint session of the US Congress without an invitation from then-president Barack Obama.

Mr Netanyahu used the platform to condemn Washington's nuclear negotiations with Iran.

In his presidential memoir, A Promised Land, Mr Obama wrote that Mr Netanyahu's "vision of himself as the chief defender of the Jewish people against calamity allowed him to justify almost anything that would keep him in power".

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