Netanyahu’s Foreign Policy Is Bad for Israel

The Costs of Befriending Illiberal Leaders

Netanyahu and Putin at the Kremlin, Moscow, July 2018. REUTERS

The moment Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called early elections last December, Israel’s political parties sprang into action, reshuffling themselves at a pace that was frenzied even by Israeli standards. All of them hope to be next in line; after a decade of practically unrivalled leadership, Netanyahu may finally be vulnerable.

The long-serving prime minister faces a thicket of corruption investigations. New political forces are challenging one of his core claims to power, that he is the exclusive defender of Israel’s security. A recent poll showed that nearly half of Israelis do not want him to serve another term, and just over one-third do. Netanyahu will still be hard to beat, but he is clearly rattled. In addition to wily campaign tactics, he is using his stature as Israel's top statesman to boost his popularity. He is aggressively marketing his foreign policy achievements, and may be planning new ones before the election.


The most immediate threat to Netanyahu’s future comes from a set of corruption investigations. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has indicated that he might decide whether to indict the prime minister even before the election. An indictment would not legally obligate Netanyahu to resign, but it could lead voters finally to sour on him. Corruption, moreover, isn’t his only problem. Many Israelis are disturbed by his longevity in office. Others are fed up with his divisive populist governing style.

Soon after Netanyahu announced that elections would be held in April, Benny Gantz, a former chief of the general staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, founded the Israeli Resilience Party, which quickly climbed in the polls. Some surveys now show Israeli Resilience winning around 22 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset, second only to the ruling Likud (which currently holds 30). If Gantz’s party were to merge with another centrist party led by Yair Lapid, the new block could pull ahead of Likud, according to some polls.

So far, Netanyahu’s support remains solid. Since the prime

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