A leader not so popular

Syria is just one of the daunting challenges Netanyahu faces in his new term

The Israeli elections left behind more questions than answers. The results surprised virtually everyone.

All the pundits had predicted a resounding victory for PM Netanyahu and a significant strengthening of the Israeli hawkish right-wing. But a last-minute vote by a large segment of the electorate that in the pre-election surveys had been designated as "undecided", for the new Yesh Atid (There is a Future) center-left party--headed by former TV anchor, Yair Lapid, and which focused on the alleged grievances of Israel's middle class--completely confounded forecasts by the pollsters.

Thus for the second time in a row, Netanyahu almost snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory--as was the case in the 2009 elections, when he nearly lost to the rival Kadima party, despite its being plagued by unprecedented charges of corruption and a disastrous record of performance.

Just as four years ago, so this time Netanyahu conducted a similarly atrocious election campaign which has left him stripped of much of his political strength in parliament, and of much of his personal prestige within his party.

However, despite Netanyahu's bungling of election campaigns, he has shown commendable competence once in office. Indeed, he has proved to be a far better Prime Minister than an election campaigner.

His achievements both in the spheres of economics and security have been impressive by any standard--although he has received precious little credit for them from a viscerally hostile press--both at home and abroad.

On first taking office in 1966, his government reigned in the huge deficit that had been left by the previous Rabin-Peres government and steered the country clear of economic catastrophe that afflicted many Asian economies at that time. Moreover, he managed to reduce dramatically the Palestinian terror attacks to almost imperceptible levels, after they had soared to unprecedented heights in the wake of the ill-conceived Oslo Accords.

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