JERUSALEM – Neither a series of corruption scandals nor a powerful rival in the form of former military man Benny Gantz were able to dethrone Benjamin Netanyahu who, according to almost complete vote counting, was on track to once again lead the country’s next government.
The incumbent Netanyahu urged his followers to vote in their droves right up until the final hours of polling, warning that failure to do so would risk the right-wing status quo and replace it with left-wing and Arab leadership.
His strategy had been to project himself as having the disadvantage heading into the April 9 general elections while also striking out to steal votes from other right-wing and religious parties despite the fact he would most likely need their support once again to form a functioning government in the Knesset.
Although the results – with 97 percent of votes counted – were tight between the major competing blocs, Netanyahu managed to take the biggest share, adding five parliamentary seats to his previous haul, and was well on track to forming a new executive.
It would be his fifth term in office, his fourth consecutive one, making him the longest-serving prime minister since David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the State of Israel.
This achievement comes after what is widely regarded as one of his hardest-fought campaigns, although nods from the presidents of the United States and Russia, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, helped project his image as a strong diplomat and a pillar of Israeli security.
Trump went so far as to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a territory annexed from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War.
Netanyahu further animated his base with an election promise to annex Jewish settlements in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank.
He also secured the return of the remains of an Israeli soldier killed during the 1982 war with Lebanon.
Israeli General Attorney Avichai Mandelblit’s recommendation in February to indict Netanyahu on three corruption charges seem to have little swayed voters.
The Likud party tried in vain to delay the announcement.
What the right-wing party did manage to do, however, was to make sure prosecutors did not file before election day as they feared leaked information regarding the cases could damage Netanyahu’s image.
They are due to file the indictment at some point Wednesday.
Despite undergoing dozens of police interrogations, and the fact that his case was closely followed on national TV – replete with scandalous images of police cars going in and out of his residence –”Bibi” was somehow able to make sure the corruption cases barely cast a shadow over the elections.
The three corruption proceedings being pursued by the Attorney General involved one allegation the Netanyahu family received lavish gifts for political favors and that he boosted certain media outlets over others in exchange for positive coverage.
A separate accusation, related to claims Netanyahu and several close associates received illicit funds as part of the state purchase of German submarines, also raised its head as voters decided who to vote for.
Another major obstacle for Bibi heading into the elections was Gantz’s Blue and White centrist bloc, which gained momentum during the campaign.
The big tent alliance was created by a merger of Gantz’s own Israel Resilience Party; Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid and former general chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon’s party, Telem.
The Blue and White alliance lodged an impressive result.
According to Israel’s Central Election Committee, which at the time of writing had processed roughly 4.05 million of 4.08 registered ballots, Likud took 26.27 percent of the share compared to the Blue and White alliance’s 25.94 percent.
Several Israeli political analysts suggested that Netanyahu could still have a difficult road ahead, given that an alliance of parties squarely against his indictment may prove elusive.
Bibi is most likely to offer a hand to other nationalist and right-wing groups in parliament, including former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman’s populist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home).