New Delhi: With Benjamin Netanyahu, an advocate of strong bilateral ties with India, making a triumphant return to power in Israel after a brief break, Indo-Israel strategic ties are likely to see an upward trajectory, and even witness increased hype around it.
Netanyahu, a personal friend of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his right-wing allies secured a comfortable majority in parliament to form the next government and end the political impasse plaguing the country.
The 73-year-old Likud party leader was the second Israeli Prime Minister to visit India in January 2018. Prime Minister Modi made his historic visit to Israel, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, in July 2017 when the ‘chemistry’ between the two leaders became the subject of intense discussion.
Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, accompanied Modi ‘like a shadow’ during the latter’s visit to the Jewish state and extended to him the welcome reserved for the US President and the Pope.
The famous picture of the two leaders at the Olga beach, standing facing each other barefoot, had social media buzzing with talks of ‘bromance’.
India and Israel elevated their bilateral relations to a strategic partnership during Modi’s visit to Israel. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has focused on expanding a knowledge-based partnership, which includes collaboration in innovation and research, including boosting the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Netanyahu used his closeness with world leaders, including Modi, as an asset during his campaign to show that others could not match his standing and secure Israel’s interests like him at the international stage.
One of the pictures his Likud party campaign used prominently was with Modi.
The longtime former Israeli prime minister has always demonstrated a soft corner for India with him and his wife, Sara, being declared Indian food lovers. The two also made sure to participate in this year’s August 15 celebrations hosted by the Indian embassy, despite being in the middle of an intense election campaign.
Netanyahu also tried to visit India a few times more during the build-up to his earlier campaigns but the visits got called off to address other urgent issues.
India’s relations with Israel have remained steady and strong even with the incumbent leadership, showing distinct signs of further progress with I2U2 (India, Israel, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates) and discussions around a Free Trade Agreement, but it has not matched the heightened hype so visible with Netanyahu in power.
For many years, the Israeli leader appeared to be politically invincible, the “Mr. Security” who met with a rude jolt after being ousted by an unprecedented coalition of parties whose only common goal was to see him out.
He took a hard line towards the Palestinians, putting security concerns at the top of any talk of peace, and long warned of an existential danger to Israel from Iran. However, he has been recently dogged by trials for alleged corruption. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1949, Netanyahu moved to the US when his father Benzion, a prominent historian and Zionist activist, was offered an academic post.
At the age of 18, he returned to Israel, spending five distinguished years in the army, serving as a captain in an elite commando unit, the Sayeret Matkal. He took part in a raid on Beirut’s airport in 1968 and fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Netanyahu went back to the US after completing his army service, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Talking to PTI, he once recalled some of the friendships he struck with bright Indians studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who later went on to become prominent figures in India.
In 1976, Netanyahu’s elder brother, Yonatan, was killed leading a raid to rescue hostages from a hijacked airliner in Entebbe, Uganda. His death had a profound impact on the family, and his name became legendary in Israel.
Netanyahu set up an anti-terrorism institute in his brother’s memory and in 1982 became Israel’s deputy chief of mission in Washington.
Overnight, Netanyahu’s public life was launched. An articulate English speaker with a distinctive American accent, he became a familiar face in international media and an effective advocate for Israel.
He was appointed Israel’s permanent representative at the UN in New York in 1984.
Netanyahu returned to Israel in 1988 and won a seat in the Knesset (parliament) on the Likud party list, becoming the deputy foreign minister.
He later became party Chairman, and in 1996, Israel’s first directly elected Prime Minister after an early election following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
Besides being the longest serving Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu was also its youngest and the first to be born after the state was founded in 1948.
Despite having fiercely criticised the 1993 Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians, Netanyahu signed a deal handing over 80 per cent of Hebron to Palestinian Authority control and agreed to further withdrawals from the West Bank, much to the chagrin of his right wing supporters.
He lost office in 1999 after he called elections 17 months early, defeated by Labour leader Ehud Barak. Barak, a decorated army officer, had served as Netanyahu’s former commander.
Following a break from politics he made a return to the Likud-led government serving under Ariel Sharon. Unhappy with Sharon’s disengagement and withdrawal from Gaza, he resigned, stayed away from power for a while but returned as Prime Minister after a gap of 10 years in 2009. He was re-elected as Prime Minister in 2013 and won a fourth term in 2015. He was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in 2019 and lost power in 2021.