Caspit is an Israeli journalist who writes for Ma'ariv, a slightly right of centre publication. The book was translated by Ora Cummings. I would say that the translation was quite choppy at times and probably needs a number of edits.
This is not a classic historian's biography with footnotes, references and details of sources. Rather there are a great deal of unattributed quotes, anonymous sources and even references to "rumours" and "urban legends." For example, after Netanyahu was caught cheating on his current wife, Sara (his third wife), he and Sara lawyered up and reached an agreement on how they would continue their relationship. According to some sources, there is a written agreement that spells out in detail how everything is supposed to work. Caspit refers to the existence of the document as an "urban legend," though in this case, his assumption is that the document exists. No further sources or details are provided.
I should also note that the book only covers the period up to the end of the Obama presidency. There are a good few chapters to write about Netanyahu during the Trump years and about the developments with Netanyahu's criminal charges and about Netanyahu's political moves all since 2017, the time of the book's original publication in Hebrew.
Overall, as someone who avidly follows politics and history, I enjoyed reading the book. It was at times repetitive, and the organization was a bit disjointed. Some of it was written chronologically and other parts were written thematically. So the last two parts of the book include a section on Netanyahu's dealings with the Palestinians and his dealings with Iran. Earlier, the book flows in a more chronological manner, covering a year or two at a time.
Caspit covers some of Netanyahu's background growing up, his relationship with his parents, particularly his father, his move to Israel and the devastating loss of his older brother Yoni, who was killed in the Israeli raid on Entebbe. He also covers some of the details of Netanyahu's relationships with his three wives and the impact that each of these women had on his career, his circle of friends, his motivation and goals. These parts of the book flowed well and provided quite a bit of interesting background information.
But the majority of the book deals with Netanyahu's relationship with political rivals and friends, at home and abroad and Netanyahu's decision making processes over the years. Caspit covers the relationships that Bibi built up with wealthy American and Israeli donors over the years, his close relationship to U.S. republican politicians and influencers, his battles with fellow Likud members over the years and Netanyahu's primary goal of remaining in power at all costs, which is, more or less, one of the themes of the book.
A great deal of Caspit's focus is lost opportunity. He asserts that Netanyahu had so much popularity for a period of time, that he could have advanced a joint Israeli-U.S. peace process with the Palestinians that would have created a period of medium to long term stablity for Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Caspit also lays a fair bit of blame at the feet of Abbas, the Palestinian leader, for the failure of the peace process, so it remains unclear how, even if Bibi had made certain decisions, Abbas would have agreed. Caspit outlines several "secret" tracks of negotiation that were taking place - the Peres-Abbas track, which he maintains was very close to a deal, the "London Track" which was also close to a deal and some other secret initiatives. On balance, however, his conclusion seems to be that Netanyahu could have made a deal if he had really wanted to do so. I'm not sure that this is accurate.
Caspit also maintains that if Bibi had taken a different approach with then President Obama, Netanyahu could have partnered with the U.S. to negotiate a much better Iranian deal. Caspit's thesis here seems to be that the U.S. was not prepared to create any sort of realistic military option, either its own, or an Israeli option as an alternative to the negotiated nuclear deal with Iran, especially since Israel was not willing to show any flexibility on other policy issues, such as peace initiatives with the Palestinians. Therefore, the U.S. was ultimately negotiating from a position of weakness and gave in, unnecessarily, to several Iranian demands that saw the deal allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons over a period of 10 years. Caspit partially blames Bibi for this, since, he asserts, that rather than working with Obama, Netanyahu decided to attack the President at every opportunity, support the Republicans, even publicly, and make it a mission to try and prevent Obama from winning a second term. This was obviously a failed strategy in Caspit's view.
That is not to say that Caspit blames Netanyahu entirely. With respect to Obama's mideastern policy, I think it is fair to say that there is little here that is very complimentary of Obama and his team. From the beginning of his presidency, Obama sent a very hostile message to Israel by visiting Egypt and Jordan and skipping Israel. This right away limited U.S. credibility for a country trying to broker a peace deal by being a partial guarantor of Israel's security. After that, over the course of an 8 year period, there were several snubs, humiliations and questionable political moves, going both ways. Caspit details many of them.
With respect to Israel, Caspit has some harsh words for several U.S. and Israeli diplomats and politicians, including George Mitchell, Hillary Clinton, Martin Indyk, Rahm Emanuel from the U.S. side, Ron Dermer, Gideon Sa'ar, and a number of others from the Israeli side. I think it is fair to say that some of his harshest criticism is reserved for Sara Netanyahu. Given her guilty plea to state criminal charges, her record of scandals and flare ups, much of this may be warranted. But Caspit spends a fair bit of time covering mistakes and misteps by many political actors, not just Bibi, that caused such a deterioration in the Obama-Netanyahu relationship, the disintegration of the peace process and other outcomes. Overall, there is "lots of blame to go around" and some of Caspit's analysis seems, perhaps, intended to justify some of the positions that Netanyahu took to ward off antagonistic or mistaken policies and proposals advanced by the U.S. that were not in Israel's long term interest.
Despite these efforts at "balance," Caspit is extremely critical of a number of Netanyahu's moves over the Obama years. Netanyahu's decision to accept a speaking invitation at the Capitol at the behest of the congressional Republicans and to go ahead and make a presentation there without even informing President Obama in advance was unprecedented and a serious violation of diplomatic protocol. Netanyahu's decision to announce new settlements just as then Vice-President Biden was arriving in Israel for a key visit was also quite a poke in the eye. And the fact that Netanyahu kept President Obama and/or Vice Biden waiting for very lengthy periods for a several meetings was another example of Netanyahu's conduct that bolster Caspit's conclusion that Netanyahu went out of his way, on several occasions to try and humiliate Obama and Biden in a manner that was highly unstatesmanlike at best, and thoroughly inappropriate.
Caspit does a great deal of editorializing. He tries to write about what Netanyahu must have been thinking, his political and personal calculations, his massive ego, his messianic complex and his enormous sense of self-entitlement. Those who are supportive of Netanyahu might view much of this as overblown, unsupported and much conjecture. But since the writing of the book, with political events that have taken place in Israel since 2017, including developments in Netanyahu's criminal trial, it seems to me that a great deal of what Caspit has to say is probably not so far off the mark.
Here is Caspit's ultimate conclusion, which is, more or less, the thesis of the book:
"Netanyahu's story is one of miserably missed opportunity. Ever since David Ben-Gurion...Israel has never had a leader with the kind of unlimited credit given to Netanyahu....he could have done anything he wanted...."
"As time went by, the real objective of the Netanyahu regime was molded: to remain in power. He failed to block Iran, he destroyed the peace process, contributed to the growing delegitimizing of Israel in the world, and was forever striving to the right, in a never ending chase after the mythical electoral "base" that will enable him to remain in power one more term, another year, longer and longer...."
"Netanyahu could have gone down in history as a leader who influenced the future of his people, who brought Israel to a new place and burst through the cul-de-sac into which the Jewish state was forced in the seventh decade of its life. Instead...he...left behind nothing at all."
Now that last part may be excessively harsh. There will certainly be those who will argue that Israel's economy is in a better state than it was when Netanyahu took office, that foreign relations have improved, especially with peace treaties with some of Israel's neighbours (although these came into effect after the book was written) and that there were other successes. But in other ways, the final four years of Netanyahu's premiership, after the book was written would bolster Caspit's thesis even further.
Between 2017 and 2021, it is quite arguable that Netanyahu's sole objective was to stay in power and avoid his criminal proceedings. He was responsible for bringing Israel to the polls on four consecutive occasions and refused to propose or pass a state budget for more than 2 years. Few legistlative initiatives were passed or even proposed, other than those that would somehow help or assist Bibi with his ongoing issues. The pursuit of legislated immunity from criminal proceedings seemed to be Bibi's overriding objective, but despite his four attempts, he couldn't seem to muster the majority require to implement it. By contrast, since the current government has taken power, there have been a rash of legislative initiatives in areas including public transportation, the environment, agriculture and a host of other areas.
Ultimately, if and when Caspit decides to update the book and add in a few more chapters, there seems to be very little that has taken place in Israeli politics that will cause Caspit to change his thesis very much, if at all. In fact, as the Netanyahu criminal trial continues, and evidence continues to emerge about Netanyahu's involvement in a wide range of very questionable activities, Caspit will probably double down on his thesis.
I plan to read Anshel Pfeffer's book as well - Bibi - The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu. I would be suprised if Pfeffer's ultimate conclusions are very different but I'm sure it will bring a different perspective. Stay tuned for my "compare and contrast" blog once I have read that book.