Netanyahu and Gantz face off in repeat Israeli elections

Netanyahu and Gantz face off in repeat Israeli elections
FILE - In this Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel. For the second time this year, Israel's long-serving Prime Minister faces off again against a former military chief, Benny Gantz, in national elections. Opinion polls show Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White locked in a close battle. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

JERUSALEM (AP) — For the second time this year, Israel's long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces off again against a former military chief, Benny Gantz, in national elections.

Opinion polls show Netanyahu's Likud and Gantz's Blue and White locked in a close battle.

Here's a closer look at the two men vying for the job:

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: SEEKING TO MAKE HISTORY

As a fixture of the Israeli political scene for over three decades, "Bibi" Netanyahu has become the face of Israel on the world stage. Over the summer, he entered the history books as Israel's longest-serving leader. He now hopes to secure his fifth term overall.

He has run on his reputation as a seasoned statesman, playing up high-profile photo-ops with everyone from Russian President Putin to his close ally and friend President Donald Trump.

Netanyahu sells himself as the only one who can protect Israel from the rising tide of Iranian aggression and accelerate Israel's global acceptance, nursing diplomatic relations with former adversaries across the Arab world.

But his rule looks more uncertain than ever after the attorney general's recommendation to indict him on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Netanyahu is scheduled to appear before the attorney general for a hearing next month, after which charges are likely.

He has denied all charges, accusing police, prosecutors and the media of orchestrating a political witch hunt to topple him.

But an indictment would result in heavy pressure to step aside, even if he wins the election.

Netanyahu is hoping to form a narrow coalition of hard-line nationalist and religious parties that are prepared to grant him immunity from prosecution.

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THE FRESH FACE: BENNY GANTZ, FORMER ARMY CHIEF

Retired army chief Gantz burst onto the political scene early this year, offering himself as an honest alternative to the scandal-plagued Netanyahu and his narrow coalition of ultranationalist and ultra-religious parties.

He joined forces with popular politician Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid party, and forged a new centrist party, Blue and White, that included two other former military chiefs.

The celebrated ex-general may be the only one who can compete with Netanyahu's own security credentials and gain the trust of a society that feels psychologically and geographically under siege.

Gantz has campaigned on his clean record and military pedigree, proclaiming that Israel has "lost its way," pledging to combat corruption and professing his devotion to state institutions that Netanyahu has assailed.

But he has come under criticism for what is seen as an uninspired campaign and a vague platform, apparently aiming to reach broad swaths of political moderates.

While trafficking in rhetoric of unity and egalitarianism, Gantz is careful not to come off as too dovish. He isn't specific about plans for engaging with the Palestinian leadership, wary of alienating political hard-liners. But after bragging during the first campaign about the number of Palestinian militants killed under his command during a 2014 war in Gaza, Gantz has largely avoided the topic during the do-over campaign.

Gantz may be able to exploit Netanyahu's vulnerabilities, but it remains to be seen whether that's enough to oust the only leader Israel has known for the past 10 years.

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