Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting his second election in five months with a potential corruption indictment looming
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting his second election in five months with a potential corruption indictment looming AFP / Gil COHEN-MAGEN

Benjamin Netanyahu, as Israel's longest-serving prime minister, has mixed right-wing leadership with deft political moves to repeatedly outwit his rivals -- but he will have to pull off another master move to form the country's next government.

After fighting his second election in just five months, and with a potential corruption indictment looming, the 69-year-old was tasked Wednesday by Israel's president with forming a new government following last week's deadlocked polls.

President Reuven Rivlin gave Netanyahu the go-ahead after meeting with him and his main challenger, ex-army chief Benny Gantz, whose alliance came neck-and-neck with the premier's Likud party in September 17 elections.

Netanyahu had suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career following April polls, when he failed to form a coalition despite his Likud party and its right-wing and religious allies coming out on top.

Meanwhile, the attorney general has announced his intention to indict Netanyahu on fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges pending a hearing expected for early October.

Many expect him to seek immunity if re-elected.

Netanyahu has spent years outlasting opponents and he could well do so again.

He campaigned for the latest vote with a combination of divisive populism and attempts to portray himself as a world statesman by talking up his relationships with foreign leaders, including US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

True to form, he issued a last-minute pledge to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if re-elected, which many saw as a play for vital right-wing nationalist votes.

That, accompanied by his stated intention to annex Israeli settlements in the wider West Bank, could effectively end any remaining hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The burly prime minister with his familiar grey comb-over has entrenched himself at the top so firmly that he has been labelled "King Bibi", a play on his childhood nickname.

Few doubt his political effectiveness.

'Mr Security'

Much of his popularity has to do with another nickname -- "Mr. Security" -- in a country where such issues are always on voters' minds.

Netanyahu frequently talks openly about Israel's air war in Syria against arch-foe Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

He generally avoids talking about the Palestinians, apart from security operations.

Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv in 1949, less than 18 months after Israel's creation.

He and his wife Sara have two sons, and he has a daughter from a previous marriage.

The son of a history professor active in Israeli right-wing politics, Netanyahu grew up partly in the United States.

He attended the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and with his fluent, American-accented English has appeared on television speaking forcefully in defence of Israel.

He performed his Israeli military service with an elite unit and was wounded in combat, but another family member's service affected him more deeply.

In 1976, his brother Yonatan died in an Israeli commando raid to rescue hostages at Entebbe airport in Uganda.

Netanyahu has called the operation "a very dramatic national experience" and "one of great personal consequence".

Netanyahu's career took off when he was posted to the Israeli embassy in Washington and later served as ambassador to the United Nations.

He became Israel's youngest prime minister in 1996, at 46, but was defeated three years later.

Netanyahu returned to power in 2009 and has remained in office ever since.